To protect families, North Korean defectors sneak back for election

March 10, 2014

By KOICHIRO ISHIDA/ Correspondent

SHENYANG, China--Some North Korean defectors in China said they would sneak back into their country to vote in an election to further conceal their absence and prevent possible repercussions against family members.

It was unclear how many defectors returned to North Korea for the March 9 election to pick deputies to the Supreme People’s Assembly. Some defectors said they had no plans to return for the vote.

But all defectors interviewed by The Asahi Shimbun denied they had any interest in the election itself.

“All candidates in past elections were strangers,” one of them said. “Voting meant nothing for us.”

What they were interested in was the stricter voter identification control in the latest election. The defectors in China heard that North Korean authorities would conduct extensive investigations into anybody who did not turn up at a polling station.

The turnout rate has been 100 percent or close to that level in every previous election. Voting is mandatory, in principle, but North Koreans were previously allowed to vote on behalf of their family members or others.

One man in his 30s, who said he paid a broker 4,000 yuan (67,000 yen or $650) to defect from North Korea with several colleagues about four months ago, said he learned about the stricter election rules from an acquaintance, a North Korean merchant, in late February.

He shared the information with his colleagues, who then decided to cross the border together to be recorded at their polling stations.

The defector and his colleagues agreed that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would scrutinize the election absentees and punish the family members of anybody found to have defected.

Other North Korean defectors said they would ignore the election and stay in China.

“It wouldn’t matter (if I didn’t vote) because I got a divorce from my wife,” said a man in his 50s who defected in December.

By KOICHIRO ISHIDA/ Correspondent
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Voters line up to cast their ballots to elect deputies to the 13th Supreme People's Assembly in Pyongyang on March 9. (AP Photo)

Voters line up to cast their ballots to elect deputies to the 13th Supreme People's Assembly in Pyongyang on March 9. (AP Photo)

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  • Voters line up to cast their ballots to elect deputies to the 13th Supreme People's Assembly in Pyongyang on March 9. (AP Photo)

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