Edward Howell

Is opposition to Kim Jong Un growing in North Korea?

Kim Jong-Un (Credit: Getty images)

North Korea is hardly the first country that comes to mind when you think of elections. Yet since the inception of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in 1948, parliamentary and local polls have, in fact, taken place. The former occur every four to five years and elect members of the Supreme People’s Assembly, the country’s rubber-stamp parliament and highest body of state authority. Since 1999, local elections have also been held, responsible for electing governors, mayors, and local assemblies at municipal, county, and provincial levels.

Predictably for a totalitarian regime, local elections – much like the Supreme People’s Assembly – are little more than a mere formality, with voter turnout usually at or around 100 per cent. Local elections at the end of November this year, however, seemed to buck this trend slightly, with voter turnout down slightly at 99.6 per cent, compared to 99.9 per cent four years ago.

The election results also revealed a glimmer of discontent among voters. North Korean state media announced how, contrary to previous occasions, the nearly 28,000 individuals elected as deputies to provincial, city, and county-level people’s assemblies did not gain the unwavering support of the voters. State media unusually highlighted how 0.09 per cent of voters voted against the candidates at the provincial level, and 0.13 per cent opposed those running for city and county-level positions. While these percentages may seem small, their very announcement is rare and revealing. It is certainly a contrast to previous elections, when the world had become accustomed to the platitudes of state media outlets lauding how, unlike in the West, North Korean elections receive nothing but a near-clean sweep of voter support.

The regime probably chose to report these so-called dissenting voices as part of a strategy

It would be more than naïve, however, to assume that the presence of opposing votes marks the sowing of seeds of democratisation in this reclusive state.

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