The American presidential race is not hot enough. Donald Trump’s famous hair? It’s nothing compared to that of Comrade Kim Jung En! He’s got the 21st century Chairman Mao hat.
I am an election addict. I used to make a living (a bad one to be sure) as a political campaign operative. I have worked on campaigns in both the U.S. and Europe. I remember primaries, general elections and by-elections the way some guys remember the past Super Bowls and the World Series. And so, yesterday was another great day in my books. North Korea had elections, and the usual adrenaline rush hit me even though I wasn’t working the campaign. And what an election it was!
First off, the turnout was 100%. That’s right, kiddies, every North Korean eligible to vote turned up to vote. Now, I’ve some familiarity with jurisdictions like Chicago and Ulster, where turnout is strong even in the cemeteries, but I’ve never worked a campaign where every person on the electoral register actually voted — although I was once involved in a race where 104% of one precinct voted (there might have been fraud). So, I had to have a look at the get-out-the-vote machinery of the Workers’ Party of Korea. What I found made me jealous.
In North Korea, it is illegal not to vote. If you are over 17, it is a crime to withhold your ballot. Now, Australia has the exact same rule, but the Aussies never get 100% turnout. Of course, the penalty in Australia is a fine, whereas in North Korea not voting gets you put in a North Korean prison. That may have something to do with the determination of the North Korean voter to exercise his or her franchise. God, the number of times I was knocking on doors begging people to vote — if only I could have threatened them with five years in a North Korean prison!
The next thing to notice about North Korea’s election is the efficiency of the ballot. In America, we have ballots big enough to use as fitted sheets on a California king-size bed. We’ve had hanging chads and butterfly ballots. And we have to have special machines to count the votes. It’s a nightmare. North Korea’s ballots are vastly superior in that there is only one race and only one candidate. It’s impossible to get it wrong, and it’s very easy to count. And your neighbors are able to look over your shoulder in case you need help making the right choice.
Then, you have to consider which party is on the ballot. In North America and Europe, we sometimes get a candidate who runs unopposed, but the North Koreans have taken this to its logical conclusion. You see, if you have someone running unopposed in one constituency but someone from another party wins a different constituency, you lose what Hyon Byong Chol, the chairman of a preparatory committee for one of the subdistricts in the election, called “the single-hearted unity of our army and people who are firmly united behind our respected marshal.” So, every candidate comes from the same party — that way you don’t have to pay for office space and staff for the opposition in the legislature, thus saving the taxpayer money.
God, the number of times I was knocking on doors begging people to vote — if only I could have threatened them with five years in a North Korean prison!
Of course, you don’t want to appear to be dictatorial in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea’s official name). So, there are parties other than the WKP. There’s the Korean Social Democratic Party (formerly the Democratic Party of Korea) and the Chondoist Chongu Party (Party of the Young Friends of the Heavenly Way — apparently, one has to leave the party when one gets too old). Both of these, however, are part of a coalition headed by the WKP, and they share its ideology. This means, they don’t need to raise funds or field candidates to challenge the WKP — a vastly more efficient system than elsewhere. No one interrupts a North Korean family at dinnertime with a phone call begging for funds. North Korea views these interruptions with such horror that most North Korean families have neither phones nor dinner in order to prevent them.
There are now 820 newly elected members of the Supreme People’s Assembly. Each member received 100% of the votes cast, which represented 100% of the people registered to vote (presuming no one wanted to go to prison), and each is a member of the WKP. You’d think that was the most efficient system in the world, but North Korea has further surprises.
The Supreme People’s Assembly is a unicameral legislature. That means there’s no equivalent of the Senate or House of Lords or any of that. This saves the taxpayer even more, and it means rare commodities like electricity, heat and running water don’t need to be wasted on a second set of legislators. Since there is only one chamber, its duties can be delegated to a smaller executive committee, and everyone else can go home, returning once a year to ratify with great wisdom shown by that committee. The Korean term translates as “rubber-stamp.”
And finally, the North Korean democracy has grown so efficient that it has declared Kim Il-sung, the first leader of the DPRK, eternal president. It’s a tribute to the system when a dead man can be Eternal President and have the capacity to do the job.
I’m still coming down off my electoral high — fortunately for me, Crimea votes on Sunday on leaving Ukraine for Russia. That’s a ballot that might rival North Korea’s for efficiency and democratic legitimacy.