Skip to main content

North Korean defector stands for South Korean election

By Paula Hancocks, CNN
April 11, 2012 -- Updated 0549 GMT (1349 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Cho Myung-chul hopes to become first North Korean in South Korean parliament
  • Cho defected from the North and wants to help the South form a better Pyongyang policy
  • South Koreans head to the polls on Wednesday for parliamentary elections

Seoul, South Korea (CNN) -- Cho Myung-chul remembers what it was like to vote in North Korea.

"They have a little piece of paper and a pencil right next to it. If you don't like the candidate you can pick up the pencil and cross the name off, but the person who picks up the pencil will die. There is always someone watching outside and of course there is only one candidate."

The idea of a free election seemed impossible to Cho Myung-chul before he defected. But he is now hoping to become the first North Korean in the South Korean parliament.

South Koreans head to polls on Wednesday

He stands a fair chance of being elected, number four of 46 proportional representative candidates for the ruling Saenuri party. He asks CNN, "Can you imagine the shock of all my former colleagues and school friends in North Korea if I get a place in the National Assembly?"

Guided launch pad tour in North Korea
What the North Koreans are thinking
North Korea's cult of Kim

Cho was a professor in North Korea and was among the elite, meaning his life was far more bearable than others. He says that South Koreans don't really know how dire life can be for many in the North and how bad the human rights situation is.

"They understand in an abstract sense that something is not right, but they don't have actual knowledge of life there." That is one reason he has entered politics, to help the conservative party form a better policy when dealing with Pyongyang.

Cho describes the difficulties he found when first trying to assimilate into South Korean life. He found it very difficult to cope, saying, "Living here I had to re-learn everything from the beginning. There was only one thing we had in common, the language and other than that, the gap was huge."

The Korean peninsula was split in 1953 when an armistice was signed after a bloody war. The two sides have never signed a peace agreement. South Korea has since grown to become Asia's fourth largest economy whereas North Korea struggles to feed its own people, asking the international community for food and monetary aid.

Cho acknowledges many defectors find it hard to adapt and says the government has to do more to help. "There are around 23,000 North Korean defectors here now. These people are the pioneers of unification, they have to be able to settle here and succeed. If you can't reunify with this small group of people, you have no chance with 23 million people in North Korea."

Cho will find out Wednesday if his parliamentary election bid is successful as South Koreans head to the polls.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 2, 2014 -- Updated 1127 GMT (1927 HKT)
Experts warn that under Kim Jong Un's rule, Pyongyang has shown an even greater willingness to raise the stakes than before.
March 18, 2014 -- Updated 1314 GMT (2114 HKT)
China and North Korea criticize a U.N. report that found crimes against humanity committed in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
March 17, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
Megumi Yokota was only 13 when she was abducted by a North Korean agent in the 1970s. What happened after that?
March 12, 2014 -- Updated 0430 GMT (1230 HKT)
Report: North Korea uses multiple techniques to defy sanctions, and shows no signs of abandoning its nuclear missile programs.
February 21, 2014 -- Updated 0817 GMT (1617 HKT)
Families torn apart for more than 60 years -- separated by the Korean War -- began to reunite at a mountain resort in North Korea Thursday.
February 18, 2014 -- Updated 1150 GMT (1950 HKT)
A stunning catalog of torture and the widespread abuse of even the weakest of North Koreans reveal a portrait of a brutal state, the UN reported.
February 18, 2014 -- Updated 0431 GMT (1231 HKT)
Former prisoners in North Korea describe horrific stories of being tortured by authorities.
February 14, 2014 -- Updated 1527 GMT (2327 HKT)
Skiing is not the first thing that springs to mind when thinking about the isolated nation, but North Korea's ski resort is world class.
February 8, 2014 -- Updated 0315 GMT (1115 HKT)
American Kenneth Bae, who is being held in North Korea, has been moved from a hospital to a labor camp.
January 8, 2014 -- Updated 0213 GMT (1013 HKT)
Why is he being held by North Korea in a prison camp? These are the questions for many since his arrest in the isolated country in 2012.
January 27, 2014 -- Updated 0818 GMT (1618 HKT)
The first time the South Korean factory owner watched his North Korean employees nibble on a Choco Pie, they appeared shocked.
January 8, 2014 -- Updated 0126 GMT (0926 HKT)
Dennis Rodman's "Big Bang in Pyongyang" may be in a league of its own, but other stars too have mixed with repressive regimes before.
December 19, 2013 -- Updated 1800 GMT (0200 HKT)
Former NBA star Dennis Rodman arrives in North Korea to train basketball players, state-run media reports.
December 18, 2013 -- Updated 0250 GMT (1050 HKT)
The nation held a memorial in the honor of former North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il on the second anniversary of his death.
December 13, 2013 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
Days after he was removed from his powerful military post, Jang Song Thaek was called a traitor and executed.
ADVERTISEMENT