North Korea cites rare dissent in elections even as 99% back candidates

North Korea cites rare dissent in elections even as 99% back candidates

SEOUL – North Korea on Nov 28 made a rare mention of dissenting in recent elections, although analysts dismissed it as an attempt to portray an image of a normal society rather than signalling any meaningful increase of rights in the authoritarian state.

The reclusive North has one of the most highly controlled societies in the world, with leader Kim Jong Un accused of using a system of patronage and repression to retain absolute power.

Reporting on the results of Nov 26’s election for deputies to regional people’s assemblies, the North’s state media said 0.09 per cent and 0.13 per cent voted against the selected candidates for the provincial and city councils, respectively.

“Among the voters who took part in the ballot-casting, 99.91 per cent voted for the candidates for deputies to provincial people’s assemblies…. (and) 99.87 per cent voted for candidates for deputies to city and county people’s assemblies,” state news agency KCNA said.

The North’s parliament and regional councils serve as a rubber stamp to the ruling Workers’ Party, with their elections usually registering over 99 per cent voter turnout.

The election in November marks the first time North Korea has referred to dissenting votes in local polls since the 1960s, an official at South Korea’s unification ministry handling relations with the North said.

Held every four years, the latest regional election was also the first polls 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,” think tank, the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, said in a report.

A photo released by state media showed Kim Jong Un 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 will remain tightly controlled by Pyongyang.

The voter turnout slightly decreased to 99.63 per cent from 99.98% four years ago, a sign analysts say that could indicate a minor weakening in state control in a country where voting is considered mandatory. REUTERS

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