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How do elections in North Korea work?

Believe it, or not there are indeed elections in North Korea, although as you might expect they do not exactly work like elections in most capitalist, democratic countries, but work under the system of “socialist” democracy as practised in socialist countries.

Where are the elections in North Korea for?

North Korea has both elections to local government, as well as the National People’s Assembly, which has almost 700 members.

At local level all members tend to be from the Workers’ Party of Korea, although there can often be jostling for who gets to stand, which gives it some level of local parry democracy.

The Workers’ Party of Korea has the 7th highest membership of any ruling party in the world.

elections in North Korea
Election in North Korea

Elections in North Korea for the national parliament

Elections for the the parliament in North Korea, known as the Supreme People’s Assembly, come every five years on average, with highest positions of state coming from the 687 elected members.

These include President of State Affairs and the Premier of the Cabinet, although they do not legislate, with that falling to a smaller Soviet-style Standing Committee.

This though is also not the highest organ of state, with that falling to the State Affairs Commission of the DPRK, headed by Chairman Kim Jong-Un, which superseded and replaced the National Defence Commission, of which Kim Jong-Il was Chairman

This was seen by many as a way for the country to move more to a standard Marxist-Leninist party system, rather than the previous Military First position.

Elactions in North Korea
Elections in North Korea and the Workers’ Party of Korea

How many parties are in parliament?

As part of the Democratic Front for The Reunification of the Fatherland there is a coalition government consisting of the Workers’ Party of Korea, The Social Democratic Party, and other popular mass groups. With one exception religious organizations are not represented.

Click the link to learn about the political parties of North Korea

This though does not North Koreans get a choice of party when they vote, with each seat still having a single candidate and the number of seats for each party being set before the election. For context the Workers’ Party of Korea gets around 607 of the 687 seats.

This is not dissimilar to other communist states, such as China, although whether North Korea is communist has been debated.

You can read about the Political Parties of China here.

A general view shows the third session of the 12th National People's Congress at the Great
A general view shows the third session of the 12th National People’s Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on 8 March 2015. China’s Communist Party-controlled legislature, the National People’s Congress (NPC), gathers in the capital for the annual show of political theater, with the “rule of law” high on the agenda. WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images

How do people vote in North Korea?

The west have accused Korean elections of being a sham and a show, with almost unanimous turnout and approval ratings usually topping 99 percent. The DPRK for its part would argue that these single entrant constituencies are done more as a referendum on the governing parties, rather than a capital controlled western style election.

In this respect North Korea and other socialist states would argue that their elections are more democratic than in the west, but of course this is up for debate.

And the elections in North Korea?

When you are in the DPRK during election time, drinking is banned as often happens in many countries around the world, even Cambodia – although again like the latter people often find ways around this rule.

The actual elections themselves have an almost party like atmosphere, with happy participants being reported as shouting “Vote for the glorious Workers’ Party of Korea” and the like.

So, regardless of what you think about the process and indeed the merits of elections in North Korea, they do happen and are an important part of the political fabric of the country, the last held in 2019 and the next due in 2024.

Come see the country and its political workings for yourself by joining one of our upcoming North Korea Tours.

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