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First time defector voters celebrate democratic process

Kim Ji Seung  |  2017-05-12 18:05
Fresh on the heels of South Korea's 19th presidential election, a number of North Korean defectors shared their stories of experiencing democracy for the first time,

Defector Lee Sun Young commented that her first voting experience in South Korea imbued her with good feelings, especially when compared to the same process back in North Korea, as she was able to choose her preferred candidate, or even abstain from voting entirely, according to her own wishes.

"I felt that this is a real liberal democracy. South Korean people have the right to choose their own leader, unlike North Koreans. Even though there is the word 'democratic' in the national title of North Korea, this was the first time I ever realized the true meaning of the word, she told Daily NK.

North Korea's voting turnout is always claimed to be 99%, with only a single candidate listed, and people receive little information about the policy and are forced to cast an approving vote. Failure to do so results in one being branded as a 'traitor' and placed under investigation by the Ministry of State Security [MSS]. 

"In North Korea, you are summoned without exception to the MSS if you do not participate in the voting or wish to abstain. The MSS usually conducts a three-month investigation and often demands bribes, which can even amount to 60,000 KPW," a defector named Lee Hye In noted.

When asked whether some North Korean defectors might feel uneasy about elections and voting in South Korea considering their experiences in the North, one defector confirmed that such sentiments exist.

In fact, some North Korean defectors, who grew up under the Ten Principles for the Establishment of a Single-Ideology System, expressed an unwillingness to participate in the election despite encouragement to do so as a South Korean citizen.

For Choi Min Sang, however, the experience was transformative. "The elections in North Korea are completely different from what I experienced in South Korea. I used to vote in accordance with orders from the Suryong (Supreme Leader) and the Party, which I detested, but here I can choose for myself, he said.

As to their opinions on the impeachment of Park Geun Hye, Choi explained that many defectors felt frightened to see that a democratically elected leader can be brought down again by voting. Such an outcome in North Korea would be unthinkable. It was therefore difficult at first to understand the notion that citizens have the right to judge their leader.

"I realized for the first time that I have a right not to participate in an election as a citizen of a country. I hope that in the future, the political situation in South Korea will progress to a more integrated system of government, Choi said.

*Translated by Yejie Kim
*Edited by Lee Farrand

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