March 9th is election day for the DPRK’s 13th Supreme People’s Assembly. The country has reportedly “seethed with election atmosphere” and “agitation activities” are widespread as citizens head to the polls in what will surely be a near 100% turnout.
It’s easy to be snarky and dismissive about the SPA elections. Hey, at least they didn’t pull an Azerbaijan and release the results before the polls opened. But analysts have highlighted a number of functions of elections in authoritarian systems, including demonstrating the overwhelming power of incumbents and recruiting new political elites. CNN also makes the point that, even though there’s no question over who will win the districts, it may be revealing to see whose name shows up as a gauge of internal leadership transitions.
New Focus International highlights another reason that is relatively distinctive to the North Korean case: that the elections serve as a census to monitor people’s movement. In advance of the elections, security officials check to make sure that residents are present. The concern is not an abstention or “no” vote but incentives to drift out of the system altogether.