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Inside the Supreme People's Assembly

Seol Song Ah  |  2014-04-10 09:57

Yesterday, Kim Jong Eun was re-elected as 1st Chairman of the National Defense Commission at the inaugural session of the 13th Supreme Peoples Assembly (SPA) in Pyongyang.

The SPA is North Korea's rubber-stamp legislature. It is comprised of 687 delegates from around the country, all of whom are expected to gather in Pyongyang once, or sometimes twice, a year. One former enterprise manager and Hwanghae Province delegate spoke to Daily NK about his experience of the 12th Supreme Peoples Assembly. 

Is there any truth to the rumor that the authorities distribute clothing prior to the delegates arrival in Pyongyang?

All delegates do receive free clothes 15 days before the SPA event, including a suit, a necktie, footwear and underwear. They clothes match the measurements taken when delegates first come into their role. Sourcing the material is the responsibility of the financial division of the Kumsusan Assembly Hall, and the clothes are produced by the clothing division of the Central Party.

How do the delegates get to Pyongyang?

Delegates from regional areas generally get free tickets for a train to Pyongyang. They are assigned sleeping compartments; they dont ride coach. These days, however, car travel is getting more common because power outages tend to delay trains. Many delegates have their own car.

What do they do on arrival in Pyongyang?

Delegates are still arriving right up until the day prior to the meeting.  After registering they are given a seat number.  Seating is organized in terms of status and rank.  Accommodation is a twin room in Pyongyangs Yanggakdo International Hotel, and a roommate is assigned.  Delegates have some free time in the hotel, but most hold back on drinking because their roommate is a stranger.

What happens on the morning of the meeting?

Delegates must arrive one hour before the meeting is due to start. They travel together on a bus owned by the financial division of Kumsusan Assembly Hall.  The glass is tinted so those outside cannot easily see through it, and the curtains are pulled. The windows are pretty big compared to those on ordinary buses.  This buses are only mobilized for No.1 events. They say that 100 of the buses were imported by Chongryon (the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan) in the mid-1980s. 

Upon arrival at the Kumsusan Assembly Hall the delegates cards are checked and they sit down to wait for the event to start. At other events the schedule is shared around and attendees practice shouting Manse, but there is none of this during the SPA event. Its a very solemn atmosphere.

At 9am the senior cadres and then Kim Jong Eun enter the room. At the moment Kim Jong Eun appears the delegates must rise from their seats and shout, Manse! ["Long live!"]  They can only sit when Kim Jong Eun gestures for them to stop.

What is on the agenda at the meeting?

An opening statement is read first. Afterward, delegates give their approval on legal revisions, basic foreign and domestic policy matters, economic policy and elections for the leadership of the National Defense Commission and the Cabinet.

Do the delegates have the right to speak?

Participants in the SPA are like machines; they move automatically. They are nothing more than bbonggauri.* The Upper (the Party) has already determined the results in advance. Thus, the meeting is merely a gathering of puppets to show to the world that North Korea adheres to democratic processes. All delegates must automatically lift up their registration cards and vote in favor of all motions.

What happens for the rest of the day?

The SPA adjourns at 12pm. All delegates must shout Manse! until Kim Jong Eun walks off the stage and cannot be seen anymore.  All move as a group back to the bus to be transported to the hotel for lunch.

The next meeting lasts from 3-5pm.  Afterward, we all pose for a commemorative photo.  Then, over the next two days discussion about each region continues, and delegates receive specific orders. After it is all over, we spend four days doing things like seeing a performance by the Mansudae Art Troupe, as well as tours of famous sites like the Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery, Mt. Myohang and Mt. Keumkang.  Finally, home electronics are delivered to all delegates; things like color televisions and fridges.

*Bbonggauri is military slang used to describe soldiers from farming backgrounds. North Koreans generally use this term to describe incompetent people in authority who lack moral fiber.  

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