North Korea yesterday made a rare mention of dissenting votes in recent elections, although analysts dismissed it as an attempt to portray an image of a normal society rather than signaling any meaningful increase of rights in the authoritarian state.
The reclusive country has one of the most highly controlled societies in the world, with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un accused of using a system of patronage and repression to retain absolute power.
Reporting on the results of Sunday’s election for deputies to regional people’s assemblies, the North’s state media said that 0.09 percent and 0.13 percent voted against the selected candidates for the provincial and city councils respectively.
Photo: Korean Central News Agency via Reuters
“Among the voters who took part in the ballot-casting, 99.91 percent voted for the candidates for deputies to provincial people’s assemblies ... [and] 99.87 percent voted for candidates for deputies to city and county people’s assemblies,” the state Korean Central News Agency said.
The North’s parliament and regional councils serve as a rubber stamp to the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, with their elections usually registering a more than 99 percent voter turnout.
This month’s election marks the first time North Korea has referred to dissenting votes in local polls since the 1960s, an official at the South Korean Ministry of Unification handling relations with the North said.
Held every four years, the latest regional election was also the first since North Korea revised its election law in August to allow multiple candidates.
“The portrayal of a more democratic society, particularly in comparison to South Korea and the US, is aimed at reinforcing the regime’s legitimacy and authenticity on the world stage,” the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada think tank said in a report.
A photograph released by state media showed Kim casting a ballot, standing before two boxes — one in green for approval, and the other in red for dissent.
“Discreet voting will likely remain limited as the boxes will continue to be conspicuously monitored,” the report said, adding that the candidate selection process would remain tightly controlled by Pyongyang.
The voter turnout slightly decreased to 99.63 percent from 99.98 percent four years ago, a sign analysts say that could indicate a minor weakening in state control in a country where voting is considered mandatory.
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