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Politics of North Korea

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Title: Politics of North Korea  
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Politics of North Korea

The Juche Tower ('Tower of Juche Idea').
This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
North Korea
Foreign relations

The politics of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea take place within the framework of the official state philosophy, Juche, a concept created by Hwang Chang-yŏp and later attributed to Kim Il-sung.[1][2] In practice, North Korea functions as a single-party state under a totalitarian[3] family dictatorship,[4][5] described even as an absolute monarchy[6][7][8] with Kim Il-sung and his heirs.

Economist Intelligence Unit, while admitting that "there is no consensus on how to measure democracy" and that "definitions of democracy are contested," lists North Korea in last place as the most authoritarian regime in its index of democracy assessing 167 countries.[9]

North Korea's political system is built upon the principle of centralization. While the constitution guarantees the protection of human rights, in practice there are severe limits on freedom of expression, and the government supervises the lives of the people closely. The constitution defines the DPRK as "a dictatorship of the people's democracy" under the leadership of the Workers' Party of Korea, which is given legal supremacy over other parties. Despite the constitution's provisions for democracy, in practice, the Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un (grandson of the state's founder, Kim Il-sung), exercises absolute control over the government and the country.

The ruling party, the Workers' Party (WPK), is thought to allow some slight inner-party democracy (see Democratic centralism). The WPK has ruled since its creation in 1948. Two minor political parties exist but are legally bound to accept the ruling role of the WPK.[10] Elections occur only in single-candidate races where the candidate has been selected by the WPK beforehand. Kim Il-sung served as General Secretary of the WPK from 1948 until his death in July 1994, simultaneously holding the office of Prime Minister from 1948 to 1972 and the office of President from 1972 to 1994. After his son won full power in 1998, the presidential post was written out of the constitution, and Kim Il-sung was designated the country's "Eternal President." Most analysts believe the title to be a product of the cult of personality he cultivated during his life.

The Western world generally views North Korea as a dictatorship; the government has formally replaced all references to Marxism-Leninism in its constitution with the locally developed concept of Juche, or self-reliance. In recent years, there has been great emphasis on the Songun or "military-first" philosophy. All references to communism were removed from the North Korean constitution in 2009.[11]

The status of the military has been enhanced and it appears to occupy the center of the North Korean political system; all the social sectors are forced to follow the military spirit and adopt military methods. Kim Jong-il's public activity focused heavily on on-the-spot guidance of places and events related to the military. The enhanced status of the military and military-centered political system was confirmed at the first session of the 10th Supreme People's Assembly (SPA) by the promotion of National Defense Commission (NDC) members in the official power hierarchy. All ten NDC members were ranked within the top twenty on September 5, and all but one occupied the top twenty at the fiftieth anniversary of National Foundation Day on September 9.


  • Political parties and elections 1
  • Political ideology 2
  • Political developments 3
    • Dismissal and possible death of Ri Yong-ho 3.1
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Political parties and elections

According to the constitution, North Korea is a Democratic Republic and the Supreme People's Assembly and provincial People's Assemblies are elected by direct universal suffrage and secret ballot. Suffrage is guaranteed to all citizens aged 17 and over.[10] In reality, elections in North Korea are non-competitive and have only single candidate races. Those who want to vote against the sole candidate on the ballot must go to a special booth to cross out the candidate's name before dropping it into the ballot box—an act which, according to many North Korean defectors, is far too risky to even contemplate.[12]

All elected candidates are members of the Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland, a popular front dominated by the WPK. The two minor parties in the coalition are the Chondoist Chongu Party and the Korean Social Democratic Party; they also have a few elected officials. The WPK exercises direct control over the candidates selected for election by members of the other two parties.[3]
 Summary of the 8 March 2009 North Korea Supreme People's Assembly election results
List Seats
Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland
Total (turnout 99.98%) 687

Political ideology

Originally a close ally of Stalin's USSR, North Korea has gradually distanced itself from the world Communist movement. Juche, an ideology of self-reliance, replaced Marxism–Leninism as the official ideology when the country adopted a new constitution in 1972.[15][16] In 2009, the constitution was amended again, quietly removing the brief references to communism (Chosŏn'gŭl: 공산주의).[17]

Political developments

For much of its history, North Korean politics have been dominated by its adversarial relationship with South Korea. During the Cold War, North Korea aligned with the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China. The North Korean government invested heavily in its military, hoping to develop the capability to reunify Korea by force if possible and also preparing to repel any attack by South Korea or the United States. Following the doctrine of Juche, North Korea aimed for a high degree of economic independence and the mobilization of all the resources of the nation to defend Korean sovereignty against foreign powers.

In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the loss of Soviet aid, North Korea has faced a long period of economic crisis, including severe agricultural and industrial shortages. North Korea's main political issue has been to find a way to sustain its economy without compromising the internal stability of its government or its ability to respond to perceived external threats. To date, North Korean efforts to improve relations with South Korea to increase trade and to receive development assistance have been mildly successful, but North Korea's determination to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles has prevented stable relations with both South Korea and the United States. North Korea has also experimented with market economics in some sectors of its economy, but these have had limited impact. Some outside observers have suggested that Kim Jong-il himself favored such reforms but that some parts of the party and the military resisted any changes that might threaten stability.

Although there exist occasional reports of opposition to the government, these appear to be isolated, and there is no evidence of major internal threats to the current regime. Some foreign analysts have pointed to widespread starvation, increased emigration through North Korea-China border, and new sources of information about the outside world for ordinary North Koreans as factors pointing to an imminent collapse of the regime, but North Korea has remained stable in spite of more than a decade of such predictions. The Workers' Party of Korea maintains a monopoly on political power and Kim Jong-il remained the leader of the country, until 2011, ever since he first gained power following the death of his father.

According to Cheong Seong-chang of Sejong Institute, speaking on June 25, 2012, there is some possibility that the new leader Kim Jong-un, who has greater visible interest in the welfare of his people and engages in greater interaction with them than his father did, will consider economic reforms and regularization of international relations.[18]

Dismissal and possible death of Ri Yong-ho

On 16 July 2012, North Korean state media reported that the Chief of General Staff of the Korean People's Army Vice Marshal Ri Yong-ho had been relieved of all his Party duties, namely his Politburo Standing Committee membership, Politburo membership, and Party Central Military Commission vice-chairmanship, stating this move was due to unspecified illness.[19][20] A spokesman for the South Korean Ministry of Unification said the move was "very unusual."[19] as the meeting at which his removal was announced was attended by the entire Politburo standing committee, Politburo members and candidate members, making ill health seem implausibly minor. Ri was replaced by Hyon Yong-chol in the role of the Chief of the General Staff.[21] On July 20, 2012, unconfirmed reports from North Korea alleged that Ri had died or been injured in a firefight with Political Bureau troops.[22][23]

Some reports suggest that this may mark a shift in power between the political leadership and the armed forces, with the political leadership in the ascendant.[23][24]

See also


  1. ^  
  2. ^ B. R. Myers: The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters. Pages 45–46. Paperback edition. (2011)
  3. ^ a b "Freedom in the World, 2006". Freedom House. Retrieved 2007-02-13. 
  4. ^ Barbara Demick and John M. Glionna (December 19, 2011). "Key figures in North Korea's family dictatorship". The Seattle Times. 
  5. ^ Sheridan, Michael (16 September 2007). "A tale of two dictatorships: The links between North Korea and Syria".  
  6. ^ Young W. Kihl, Hong Nack Kim. North Korea: The Politics of Regime Survival. Armonk, New York, USA: M. E. Sharpe, Inc., 2006. Pp 56.
  7. ^ Robert A. Scalapino, Chong-Sik Lee. The Society. University of California Press, 1972. Pp. 689.
  8. ^ Bong Youn Choy. A history of the Korean reunification movement: its issues and prospects. Research Committee on Korean Reunification, Institute of International Studies, Bradley University, 1984. Pp. 117.
  9. ^ "Economist Intelligence Unit democracy index 2006" (PDF).  
  10. ^ a b "Constitution of North Korea". Wikisource. Retrieved 2007-02-22. 
  11. ^ Herskovitz, Jon (2009-09-28). """North Korea drops communism, boosts "Dear Leader. Reuters. 
  12. ^ "North Korea votes for new rubber-stamp parliament," Associated Press, March 8, 2009.
  13. ^ Moon, Angela; Sugita Katyal; Ralph Boulton (2009-03-08). "N.Korea vote may point to Kim successor". Reuters. Retrieved 2009-03-08. 
  14. ^ "IPU PARLINE Database: Choe Go In Min Hoe Ui".  
  15. ^ "Constitution of North Korea (1972)". 1972. Retrieved 7 May 2009. 
  16. ^ Martin, Bradley K. (2004). Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty. New York City, New York: Thomas Dunne Books. p. 111.  
  17. ^ DPRK has quietly amended its Constitution (Archived at WebCite)
  18. ^ Song Sang-ho (June 27, 2012). "N.K. leader seen moving toward economic reform". The Korea Herald. Retrieved June 28, 2012. 
  19. ^ a b Lucy Williamson (2012-07-16). "'"BBC News - North Korea military head Ri Yong-ho 'relieved of post. Retrieved 2012-12-06. 
  20. ^ Yoon, Sangwon. "North Korea Fires Army Chief Ri Yong Ho From All Posts". Retrieved 2012-12-06. 
  21. ^ KCNA: North Korea names Hyon Yong Chol as new military chief
  22. ^ "'"The Chosun Ilbo (English Edition): Daily News from Korea - N.Korean Army Chief 'Refused to Go Quietly. 2012-07-20. Retrieved 2012-12-06. 
  23. ^ a b "Kim Jong-Un May Have Just Suppressed a Coup". The Atlantic Wire. July 20, 2012. Retrieved 2012-07-21. 
  24. ^ "Exclusive: Kim plans economic change in North Korea". Reuters. July 20, 2012. Retrieved 2012-07-21. 

External links

  • Freedom House Country Report on North Korea
  • The North Korean Human Rights Act: Documents and Background Materials
  • The North Korean International Documentation Project
  • North Korea Uncovered, a comprehensive mapping on Google Earth of the DPRK's political and economic infrastructure
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