By the time Pyongyang’s rubber stamp parliament meets on April 13 to anoint Kim Jong-un as the third of his line to rule the impoverished state, 53-year old Cho Myung-chul will likely have become the first North Korean to win a free election. The rub is that Cho, once part of North Korea’s elite who defected in 1994 during the 17-year rule of Kim Jong-il, is standing in parliamentary elections in South Korea April 11 – the first defector to do so. “When I first came to Seoul I was filled with rage and pure hatred for Kim Jong-il’s government,” Cho told Reuters in a cafe in the heart of Seoul’s bustling commercial centre. Cho studied at and later joined the faculty of Kim Il Sung University, named after the founder of North Korea and reserved for regime loyalists.
While working as an exchange professor in China, Cho left that life and his wife and sought refuge in South Korea, where 23,000 North Koreans live, largely on the fringes of one of the world’s most prosperous countries. After years working in research institutes, Cho was appointed to the state-run Institute for Unification Education in Seoul, the highest public office ever held by a defector.
That appointment saw him denounced as “human garbage” by North Korea’s propaganda machine and local media reported that a hit squad was being sent to kill him. “If they do murder me they will only be turning me in to a hero,” Cho said.