Like most authoritarian states, North Korea, too, loves its democratic pretences.
Last week, North Koreans, including ‘supreme leader’ Kim Jong-un, cast their votes to elect roughly 700 members to the national legislature. Even so, somehow, no one has mistaken it yet it for a democracy. Like most authoritarian states, North Korea, too, loves its democratic pretences. Jong-un’s Workers’ Party has has an iron grip on North Korea, but every five years, an election for the rubber-stamp legislature, known as the Supreme People’s Assembly, is held. It is a rubber-stamp, farcical election because voters are presented with just one state-sanctioned candidate per seat. They cast their ballots to show their approval or, very rarely, disapproval (and that doesn’t come without risks), making the election exercise meaningless. While casting one’s vote is of little consequence when it comes to voters showing their approval/disapproval of general policy measures, the election exercise allows the ruling party to reward up-and-coming cadres, hone mobilisation skills, provide a veneer of democracy and monitor the whereabouts and loyalties of citizens.
On Tuesday, results-day, there were no suprises—an expected landslide win for its authoritarian leadership and its party. However, in a first for the country, Kim Jong-un does not appear to have featured on the ballot, as announced by state media. No reason has been given for this, five years after he was ‘unanimously’ named the Supreme Leader. All said, a new record was set this time—99.99% of voters voted (nobody would have thought that the previous election’s 99.97% turnout could be bettered, but what use are such numbers if not to hide a lie?). While election days in North Korea are a mini-festival—there are bands playing music as voters wait in line, and groups dancing for those who have already finished casting their vote—not participating in state-sponsored activities (like voting) leads to social ostracisation and legal repercussions for the citizens. “Democratic” People’s Republic of Korea isn’t fooling anyone.