Powerful, Privileged and Voted In

Elections for the Supreme Peoples
Assembly (SPA; North Korea’s state legislature) are fast approaching. On the 15th, Chosun Central News Agency
(KCNA) reported that election committees have been established in the military
and at the provincial, city and county levels in preparation for the elections,
which fall on March 9th. This follows the formation of an SPA Central Election
Committee one week ago.

Though the Supreme Peoples Assembly is often
dismissed as a rubber stamp parliament, delegates nevertheless wield considerable
authority in society and must therefore undergo a protracted
selection process overseen by provincial Party committees and the Central Party. Once elected, they may not be arrested or prosecuted without express Central
Party approval. They also exercise power in the criminal trial process
alongside the Ministry of People’s Security and public prosecutors. They can also
travel far more freely within the country than ordinary citizens. 

One of their key responsibilities is oversight of the public security services. For
instance, if corruption is suspected on the part of a security agent then a SPA delegate
has the authority to withdraw his/her powers on site. A delegate can also
submit cases to senior levels of the security services for further
investigation.

Kim Chol Song (pseudonym), a former delegate in North Hamkyung Province,
told Daily NK on the 16th, Supreme Peoples Assembly delegates have the authority to relieve security
agents of their posts if illegal acts, bribery or embezzlement are detected. Even
senior guidance officers are careful if they know they are dealing with a delegate.

“There
have been cases where a deputy on a work-related trip sees a security officer
mistreating people and engaging in illegal activity on the street, so he rips off
the agent’s epaulets on the spot and reports it to the Supreme Peoples Assembly, the source recalled. I knew of another security officer who struck
a delegate he had mistaken for an ordinary worker. He received an education
through labor sentence for that.

Special
direct trains are organized for them when they have to attend sessions of the
Supreme Peoples Assembly in Pyongyang, too,” the
former delegate noted. 

Many SPA delegates are persons who have personally met the late Kim Il
Sung or Kim Jong Il. 

Lee Myong Ja (pseudonym), who served three terms in the SPA representing
South Pyongan Province, explained, Most of the candidates
have this ‘No.1 Status’ or are relatives of anti-Japanese guerrillas. In my
case, I met Kim Il Sung at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a provincial chemical plant
employing 5000 staff.

You
have to pass a range of vetting procedures to be granted ‘No.1 Status’ in the
first place, so there is almost no need for such vetting when becoming a delegate. My
aunt attended Kim Il Sung University, too, and used to be in charge of Kim Il
Sungs daily meals, so that made it possible for me,she continued.

Providing further details on the process, the source added, The nominees meet face to face with provincial Party cadres,
and then have another face to face meeting in Pyongyang. Then a final
decision is made and electoral precincts are notified.

Refugee sources often recount something of a holiday
atmosphere in the build-up to the five-yearly
elections, with elderly residents beating drums and small gongs throughout the neighbourhood
to create a sense of celebration. However, candidates do not make public
pledges or anything similar. The only outward sign of promotion is a
number of posters stuck to the outer walls of the electoral committee office
detailing the background of the candidate.

Voters must present their citizen registration papers at the voting
office to receive a ballot. There are two separate ballot boxes, one for
assenting votes and one for dissenting votes. But the dissenting box is not
prominent, which adds to a general sense of “encouragement” for people to vote in favor of the
pre-selected candidate. 

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