Politics of North Korea

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The Juche Tower symbolizes the official state philosophy of Juche.
Emblem of North Korea.svg
This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
Democratic People's Republic of Korea

The politics of North Korea takes place within the framework of the official state philosophy, Juche, a concept created by Hwang Jang-yop and later attributed to Kim Il-sung. The Juche theory is the belief that through self-reliance and a strong independent state, true socialism can be achieved.[1][2]

North Korea's political system is built upon the principle of centralization. While the North Korean constitution formally guarantees protection of human rights, in practice there are severe limits on freedom of expression, and the government closely supervises the lives of North Korean citizens. The constitution defines North Korea as "a dictatorship of people's democracy"[3] under the leadership of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK), which is given legal supremacy over other political parties.

The WPK is the ruling party of North Korea. It has been in power since its creation in 1948. Two minor political parties also exist, but are legally bound to accept the ruling role of the WPK.[4][better source needed] They, with the WPK, comprise the popular front Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland (DFRF). Elections occur only in single-candidate races where the candidate is effectively selected beforehand by the WPK.[5]

In addition to the parties, there are over 100 mass organizations controlled by the WPK.[6][7] Those who are not WPK members are required to join one of these organizations.[8] Of these, the most important ones are the Kimilsungist-Kimjongilist Youth League, Korean Democratic Women's League, General Federation of Trade Unions of Korea, and Union of Agricultural Workers of Korea.[6] These four organizations are also DFRF members.[9]

Kim Il-sung ruled the country from 1948 until his death in July 1994, holding the offices of General Secretary of the WPK from 1949 to 1994 (titled as Chairman from 1949 to 1972), Prime Minister of North Korea from 1948 to 1972 and President from 1972 to 1994. He was succeeded by his son, Kim Jong-il. While the younger Kim had been his father's designated successor since the 1980s, it took him three years to consolidate his power. He was named to his father's old post of General Secretary in 1997, and in 1998 became chairman of the National Defence Commission (NDC), which gave him command of the armed forces. The constitution was amended to make the NDC chairmanship "the highest post in the state."[this quote needs a citation] At the same time, the presidential post was written out of the constitution, and Kim Il-sung was designated "Eternal President of the Republic" in order to honor his memory forever. 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.[10]

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 NDC members into 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 the Day of the Foundation of the Republic on September 9.

Political parties and elections[edit]

According to the Constitution of North Korea, the country is a democratic republic and the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA) and Provincial People's Assemblies (PPA) are elected by direct universal suffrage and secret ballot. Suffrage is guaranteed to all citizens aged 17 and over.[4] In reality, elections in North Korea are non-competitive and feature single-candidate races only.[2] Those who want to vote against the sole candidate on the ballot must go to a special booth - without secrecy - 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.[11]

All elected candidates are members of the Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland (DFRF), a popular front dominated by the ruling Workers' Party of Korea (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.[5]

Political ideology[edit]

Originally a close ally of Stalin's USSR, North Korea has increasingly emphasized Juche, an ideology of socialist self-reliance, rather than Marxism–Leninism. Juche was enshrined as the official ideology when the country adopted a new constitution in 1972.[12][13] In 2009, the constitution was amended again, quietly removing the brief references to communism (Chosŏn'gŭl공산주의).[14] However, North Korea continues to see itself as part of a worldwide leftist movement. The Workers' Party maintains a relationship with other leftist parties, sending a delegation to the International Meeting of Communist and Workers' Parties.[15] North Korea has a strong relationship with Cuba;[16] in 2016, the North Korean government declared three days of mourning period for Fidel Castro's death.[17]

Political developments[edit]

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 in the early 1990s and the loss of Soviet aid, North Korea 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 for North Korea.[citation needed]

Although there are occasional reports of signs of opposition to the government, these appear to be isolated, and there is no evidence of major internal threats to the current government. Some foreign analysts[who?] 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.[citation needed] However, 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 normalization of international relations.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Becker, Jasper (2005), Rogue Regime: Kim Jong Il and the Looming Threat of North Korea, New York City: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-517044-X 
  2. ^ B. R. Myers: The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters. pp. 45–46. Paperback edition. (2011)
  3. ^ Chapter I , Article 12 of Wikisource link to Constitution of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (2012). Wikisource. 2012. 
  4. ^ a b s:Constitution of North Korea
  5. ^ a b "Freedom in the World, 2006". Freedom House. Archived from the original on 2007-07-14. Retrieved 2007-02-13. 
  6. ^ a b Scalapino, Robert A.; Chun-yŏp Kim (1983). North Korea Today: Strategic and Domestic Issues. Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley, Center for Korean Studies. p. 84. ISBN 978-0-912966-55-7. 
  7. ^ Kagan, Richard; Oh, Matthew; Weissbrodt, David S. (1988). Human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea). Minnesota Lawyers International Human Rights Committee. p. 166. ISBN 978-0-929692-23-4. 
  8. ^ Understanding North Korea 2014 (PDF). Seoul: Institute for Unification Education. 2015. p. 367. OCLC 829395170. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2017-01-01. 
  9. ^ Lansford, Tom (2015). Political Handbook of the World 2015. Singapore: CQ Press. p. 3330. ISBN 978-1-4833-7155-9. 
  10. ^ Herskovitz, Jon (2009-09-28). "North Korea drops communism, boosts "Dear Leader"". Reuters. Archived from the original on 2009-10-01. 
  11. ^ "[1]," Associated Press, March 8, 2009.
  12. ^ s:Constitution of North Korea (1972)
  13. ^ 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. ISBN 0-312-32322-0. Although it was in that 1955 speech that Kim gave full voice to his arguments for juche, he had been talking along similar lines as early as 1948. 
  14. ^ DPRK has quietly amended its Constitution (Archived March 31, 2013, at WebCite)
  15. ^ "13th International meeting of Communist and Workers' Parties in Athens". Act of Defiance. 29 November 2011. Archived from the original on 14 March 2014. 
  16. ^ Ramani, Samuel (7 June 2016). "The North Korea-Cuba Connection". The Diplomat. Archived from the original on 8 June 2016. 
  17. ^ "N.K. declares 3-day mourning over ex-Cuban leader Castro's death". Yonhap. 28 November 2016. Archived from the original on 28 November 2016. 
  18. ^ Song Sang-ho (June 27, 2012). "N.K. leader seen moving toward economic reform". The Korea Herald. Archived from the original on July 3, 2012. Retrieved June 28, 2012. 

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