Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA)
The Party ‘commands’ the state, while the Chairman ‘commands’ the Party. This is the basic principle that is observed throughout North Korea regime. The SPA (Supreme People’s Assembly), as the representative of the people, is the vehicle through which the Party carries out its decisions. In April 2012, it decided to state that North Korea is a nuclear state in the preface of the Constitution.
The SPA is the highest political body in North Korea, as stipulated by the ‘Socialist Constitution’ of North Korea. The SPA appoints key government officials such as the Premier to carry out actual administrative duties. As, in principle, power is not centralized in the President or the Cabinet, the regime may be regarded as an ‘Assembly State’. The former Soviet Union and China both followed this model.
Although it acts as an assembly in that it performs legislative functions, the powers granted to it by the constitution are far greater. In reality, the SPA is a rubber-stamp assembly that merely passes laws and decisions handed down by the KWP. Assembly meetings are held once or twice a year. Matters dealt with during such sessions include: approving the national budget, appointing members of the Cabinet and other key state bodies, and passing laws.
The SPA is a unicameral legislative body with 687 members who are elected by popular vote for five-year terms. The Supreme People's Assembly always passes all proposals by the government into law during its sessions with almost no debate or modification. The president of the SPA Presidium is North Korea’s titular head of state. The KWP approves a list of SPA candidates who are elected without opposition, but some seats are held by approved minor parties. The SPA's composition may indicate the relative strength of different groups within the North Korean state. More newly elected industrial managers may indicate more attention being given to economic growth, while more military officers could indicate a renewed emphasis on defense.
Invariably the legislative process is set in motion by executive bodies according to the predetermined policies of the party leadership. The assembly is not known to have ever criticized, modified, or rejected a bill or a measure placed before it, or to have proposed an alternative bill or measure. Laws are adopted and issued byvarious state organs pursuant to the Constitution.
The Supreme People’s Assembly is North Korea’s legislative organization. It is usually convened in April, or March at the earliest, to announce important policy decisions. It examines major state plans for the year, announces personnel reshuffles at state agencies and reviews budget plans. Its role seems to be similar to that of South Korea’s National assembly. But North Korea’s parliamentary session is only held once or twice a year.
Standing Committee / Presidium
The Supreme People’s Assembly is the highest organ of State power in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Legislative power is exercised by the Supreme People’s Assembly. The Supreme People's Assembly confirms new domestic policies, changes to the constitution, budget decisions, laws and official appointments. During recess periods, the functions of the SPA are carried out by the Standing Committee. The Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly exercises legislative power when the Supreme People’s Assembly is not in session.
Delegated to have the highest political power when the SPA is in recess, the SPA Standing Committee comprises the Chairman, Vice Chairman, Secretary, and members. Although the constitution originally stated that the SPA is the highest political body, amendments in 1998 have given the Chairman of the SPA Standing Committee the authority to represent the nation as a whole. Therefore, according to the constitution, the Chairman of the Standing Committee holds the highest position of power in North Korea. In accordance with amendments made in 1998, the Standing Committee has inherited most of the authority of the former SPA Permanent Committee, Central People’s Committee, and the President.
The Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly is the highest organ of State power when the Supreme People’s Assembly is not in session. The Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly consists of the President, Vice-Presidents, Secretary and members.
The Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly may have a few Honorary Vice-Presidents. Honorary Vice-Presidents of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly may be deputies to the Supreme People’s Assembly who have participated in the work of State building for a long time and rendered distinguished service.
The term of office of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly is the same as that of the Supreme People’s Assembly. The Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly continues its work until a new Presidium is elected, even after the term of the Supreme People’s Assembly expires.
The Supreme People’s Assembly is composed of deputies elected on the principle of universal, equal and direct suffrage by secret ballot. The elections instruct voters from 687 constituencies to select representative deputies, who will serve on the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA). Voters are presented with a single candidate in the district where they live. These candidates are chosen by the Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland, the governing coalition, which is controlled by the Workers' Party. There is only one box to check.
The national elections held in March 2009 were neither free nor fair. Elections are held sporadically for Korean Workers’ Party (KWP) - approved delegates to the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) and provincial and local people’s assemblies. One hundred percent of the vote for a single candidate is not unusual. Elections were held in 1990, 1998, 2003 and 2009. The assemblies meet only for a few days each year to give formal approval to state directives.
The Supreme People’s Assembly is elected for a term of five years. A new Supreme People’s Assembly is elected according to a decision of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly prior to the expiry of the former’s term of office. When unavoidable circumstances render an election impossible, the term of office of the Supreme People’s Assembly is prolonged until an election can be held.
The Supreme People’s Assembly holds regular and extraordinary sessions. Regular sessions are convened once or twice a year by the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly. Extraordinary sessions are convened when the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly deems them necessary, or at the request of a minimum of one-third of the total number of deputies.
To provide a semblance of multiparty politics and as a mechanism for unification of North and South, the Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland was established. Other parties include the Chongu (Friends) Party, the Korean Social Democratic Party, and the KWP. An opposition party in exile, with branches in Tokyo, Beijing, and Moscow, is the Salvation Front for the Democratic Unification of Chosun. It was established in the early 1990s.
National elections to select representatives to the Supreme People’s Assembly occurred in 2014. These elections were neither free nor fair. The government openly monitored voting, resulting in a reported 100 percent participation rate and 100 percent approval of the preselected government candidates. Local elections on July 2015 were likewise neither free nor fair. The government reported a 99.97 percent turnout, with 100 percent approval for the government candidates.
KCNA reported on March 2014 that election atmosphere was gaining momentum in the DPRK with the approach of March 9, a day of election for deputies to the 13th Supreme People's Assembly (SPA). Seen in streets, public places, industrial establishments and co-op farms are "Let us all participate in election of deputies to SPA!", "Let us all consolidate our revolutionary power as firm as a rock!" and other slogans.
Constituencies and sub-constituencies were crowded with citizens confirming their names on voter rolls. Meanwhile, agitation activities are going on to encourage citizens to take active part in the election with high political enthusiasm and labor feats, amid the playing of "Song of Election".
Elections in North Korea are non-competitive and have only single candidate races. Even the absolute dictators like Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un hold elections. He won with 100% of the North Korean vote on 09 March 2014.
KCNA reported a few days earlier that election atmosphere was gaining momentum in the DPRK with the approach of March 9, a day of election for deputies to the 13th Supreme People's Assembly (SPA). Seen in streets, public places, industrial establishments and co-op farms are "Let us all participate in election of deputies to SPA!", "Let us all consolidate our revolutionary power as firm as a rock!" and other slogans. Constituencies and sub-constituencies are crowded with citizens confirming their names on voter rolls. Meanwhile, agitation activities were going on to encourage citizens to take active part in the election with high political enthusiasm and labor feats, amid the playing of "Song of Election". Now the Korean people "are fully determined to highly exalt the DPRK's dignity and demonstrate once again the might of single-minded unity by casting ballots for their candidates".
Dictators pay lip service to democracy because hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue. The elections demonstrate that even the Kim dynasty feels the need to defend the “Democratic People’s Republic of” portion of the country's name with something that vaguely resembles a normal election. This is typical of Stalinist electoral systems. Created in the Soviet Union in the 1930s, the pattern was copied across the socialist bloc. The signature feature of the system is the non-competitive nature of the elections. There was only one candidate in every electoral district, thus the success of a given candidate was preordained.
In the Soviet model, the official election results claimed that 99 percent of the people had voted and that some 99 percent of that 99 percent had voted for the official candidate. It was tacitly admitted that a very small minority of people had voted "wrong". In North Korea, since 1962, official statements report that 100 percent of the population voted, and all voted for the officially approved candidate. Since the 1990s, the official participation rate has gone down to 99.8 percent, all of whom vote "correctly". North Korea convened the Supreme People’s Assembly 11 April 2017 as it observed the 5th anniversary of Kim Jong Un becoming the country's leader. The day marked exactly 5 years since Kim Jong Un assumed the top post of the ruling Workers' Party. Delegates to the Supreme People's Assembly gathered in Pyongyang to adopt decisions on the national budget, new legislation and new appointments at state institutions. The assembly's members are believed to have emphasized their leader's achievements and the country's commitment to its nuclear and missile development programs.
The North Korean leadership apparently wanted to send a warning to the Trump administration, which had not ruled out the use of force against the country. The leadership also hoped to boost Kim Jong Un's authority by convening the Supreme People's Assembly just 4 days before the 105th anniversary of the birth of his grandfather Kim Il Sung. Another focus of attention is whether there have been changes in leadership posts, following speculation that the head of the country's secret police, Kim Won Hong, was dismissed earlier in 2017.
North Korea said 09 January 2019 that it would hold its first parliamentary election in five years on 10 March 2019. The country's leader Kim Jong Un apparently aims to strengthen the foundation of his regime, which is calling for the rehabilitation of the national economy. The country's state-run media announced that the election for the Supreme People's Assembly will be held on March 10th. It will be the second such election since Kim Jong Un became the country's leader in December 2011.
About 700 representatives will be elected by a de-facto confidence vote, and the new assembly is likely to convene in April. North Korea previously hoisted a policy of simultaneously advancing nuclear and economic development. In April last year, it effectively declared success for the country's nuclear development. It announced it would shut down a nuclear test site, halt launches of inter-continental ballistic missiles, and focus efforts on rebuilding the economy. By holding the parliamentary election, Kim apparently intends to consolidate his regime with this new policy.
Fyodor Tertitskiy, an NK Pro contributor and expert on North Korean leadership, said: “The SPA elections give the regime an opportunity to change the membership of the largest formal grouping of elites in the government, sort of a “who’s who” in North Korean politics."
North Korea puts only one candidate on the ballot in each district, and voting is not optional. The official turnout rate is almost always 99 percent or higher, as is support for the candidates. On paper, the Supreme People's Assembly is the most powerful organ in the North Korean state, but in practice it just signs off on measures approved by the ruling party. However, that does not mean that the members always stay the same. In the last election 5 years ago, 55 percent of the seats changed hands.
Kim Yong Nam, Choe Ryong Hae, Pak Pong Ju and other leading officials of the Party and government voted for candidates for deputies to the SPA at relevant sub-constituencies. They met candidates for deputies and voters to praise them for "their patriotic devotion to the prosperity and development of the country and expressed belief that they would as ever fulfill their duty as citizens of the DPRK in the general advance for further consolidating the people's power as firm as a rock and opening a new road of advance for socialist construction, regarding the our-state-first principle as their faith".
Rodong Sinmun in an editorial said that "the election of deputies to the 14th SPA serves as an important occasion for further consolidating the people's power in our country and victoriously advancing the cause of the Juche revolution. Every ballot cast for the candidates for deputies reflect the loyalty to firmly defend the unique idea of the great leaders on building people's power and their exploits", the editorial says, and goes on: "The election will strikingly manifest the fixed will of our people to firmly trust and uphold to the last Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un despite storm and stress. Each approval ballot is an expression of the fixed will to further cement the people's power and dynamically step up the building of a powerful socialist country. All the people have to fully display through the election the invincibility and might of the DPRK advancing by dint of the single-minded unity."
All the people and service personnel of the People's Army on the day of the election of deputies to the SPA went to polling booths with the "will to consolidate our socialism centered on the popular masses as firm as rock". Dances and colorful art performances heightened the atmosphere of the election at polling stations in festive attire. When the election began, they cast approval votes for the candidates for deputies to the SPA, in reflection of their patriotism. The voting significantly came to an end "amid patriotic enthusiasm of all the people".
As of 18:00, all the electors registered on the voter rolls in all constituencies across the country for the election of deputies to the 14th SPA attended the voting, except for those abroad or working in oceans. Overseas citizens of the DPRK staying in the homeland also took part in voting at their wishes. Those voters troubled with aging or illness cast their votes into mobile ballot boxes.
On 12 March 2019, North Korea released a list of 687 people elected as deputies to the 14th Supreme People's Assembly -- Pyeongyang's parliament that ratifies decisions made by the ruling party, enacts laws and reviews the state budget. And on this long list, Kim Jong-un's name was nowhere to be seen, meaning he did not run.
For the first time in North Korean history, the regime's leader was not a representative in parliament -- a major change from the past. The regime's founder and Kim Jong-un's grandfather, Kim Il-sung, served in the first to the 9th Supreme People's Assemblies, and Kim's father, Kim Jong-il, did so from the 7th to the 12th. Kim Jong-un was elected to the 13th assembly. Not electing him to the 14th one could be part of efforts to portray North Korea as a normal country.
In North Korea, the leaders exert supreme authority, so naturally they have had titles in parliament, in the party, and in the cabinet. But in capitalist countries, this would be weird because it means that the president doubles as a lawmaker. Kim Jong-un is trying to portray North Korea as a normal state and his exclusion this time is part of these efforts.
Kim Jong un's sister Kim Yo-jong, however, was elected as a deputy. The North's foreign minister Ri Yong-ho and its vice foreign minister Choe Son-hui also made the list. Other key figures involved in talks with South Korea and the U.S. -- such as Ri Son-gwon and Kim Yong-chol -- have become deputies too. The Supreme People's Assembly has far less power than the Workers Party itself, so their inclusion changes little in terms of control but for these key figures, it's another symbol of their authority.
North Korea has decided to convene its Supreme People’s Assembly in late January 2021, following the eighth congress of its ruling Workers’ Party in the same month. Sessions of the Supreme People’s Assembly, which is equivalent to South Korea’s National Assembly, are typically held in April. But next year, the North will hold the parliamentary session to be attended by hundreds of delegates three months earlier than usual. Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s speech, the party congress and the assembly session will all take place in January to announce the nation’s detailed policy lines. By concentrating the three major events in the same month, North Korea will likely deliver its clear message to the US.
North Korea’s parliamentary session in January may possibly unveil a new team in charge of nuclear negotiations with the U.S. U.S. President-elect Joe Biden has already finalized a team to deal with a North Korea policy. Unlike Trump, Biden is a veteran in diplomacy who values working-level negotiations. Given that, North Korea may let the leader’s sister Kim Yo-jong deal with foreign affairs or create a new nuclear negotiation team led by First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui. The North could also bring an old nuclear task force to the diplomatic forefront. Known as the “nuclear management team,” it had taken charge of nuclear negotiations with the U.S. since the mid-1990s when the North and the U.S. signed the Geneva Agreed Framework. Also known as the “New York Line,” the task force consisted of career diplomats including roving ambassador Kim Myong-gil and former foreign minister Ri Yong-ho.
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