On March 8, virtually all North Korean adults will be expected (or rather required) to come to their local polling station in order to partake in the elections of the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA), the North Korean parliament.The ritual has been repeated every four or five years and hence is quite predictable. First, the voters form remarkably orderly cues, and upon entering the station they will make a deep bow to the portraits of the Leaders from the Kim family which has been running the country for almost 70 years. Having completed this important ritual, they will be issued ballot papers, whereupon they will proceed to a voting box. The ballot will have only one candidate, even though the voter has the theoretical option of voting against the candidate. If the North Korean media is to be believed, not a single person nationwide has exercised this theoretical right. The picture described above is quite typical of Stalinist electoral systems. First created in the Soviet Union in the 1930s, this pattern was then copied across the socialist bloc. The standout feature of this system was the non-competitive nature of the elections. There was only one candidate in every electoral district, thus the success of a given candidate was preordained. The party bureaucracy decided the names of the candidates well before the elections were held.
A national parliament elected in such a way was bound to be a rubberstamp institution. In all communist countries, it was in session for only a few days a year. Its members were convoked in order to vote for a great number of government bills in quick succession.
The North Korean government, as is often the case, has taken this model to its logical extreme. In the Soviet Union, and other state socialist countries, the officially published results of elections usually claimed that 99 percent of its people had come to the polling stations and that roughly 99 percent of that 99 percent had voted for official candidates. In other words, it was tacitly admitted that a very small minority of people had either not voted, or had voted against the government candidates.
Initially, this pattern was followed in North Korea too, but from 1962, things changed – every election since then has (according to official statements) been voted in by 100 percent of the population, who all voted for officially approved candidates. Technically this may well have been the case: After all, it would be a decidedly reckless act to cross out the name of the candidate under the watchful eye of officials. Since the 1990s, the approach has been somewhat relaxed, the North Korean government still claims that 100 percent of all votes were in favour of official candidates, but the official participation rate has gone down to 99.8 percent.
The North Korean government still claims that 100 percent of all votes were in favour of official candidates, but the official participation rate has gone down to 99.8 percent.
The SPA members always vote for the bills drafted by the government and the party leadership. To the best of our knowledge, within the 68 years of the SPA history, not a single member of this institution has ever voted against any bill which was introduced to the parliament.