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DPRK Leadership - Introduction

Persons with at least one major position in leading party, government, and military organs are considered the ruling elite. This group includes all political leaders who are, at a given time, directly involved in the preparation of major policy decisions and who participate in the inner circle of policy making. The ruling elite include Political Bureau members and secretaries of the KWP, Central People's Committee members, members of the State Administration Council, and members of the Central Military Commission and the National Defense Commission. Because overlapping membership is common in public office, topranking office holders number less than 100. In any event, those having the most influential voice in policy formulation are members of the Political Bureau Presidium.

Top leaders shared a number of common social characteristics. They belong to the same generation; the average age of the party's top fifty leaders was about sixty-eight years in 1990. By the end of 1989, aging members of the anti-Japanese partisan group accounted for 24 percent of the Political Bureau's full members. There is no clear evidence of regional underrepresentation. Nonetheless, many Hamgyng natives were included in KIM Il-song's inner circle -- for example, O Chin-u, Pak Sngch 'l, Kim Yong-nam, and Kye Ung-t'ae. The latter was a member of the Secretariat of the Central Committee and secretary in charge of economics.

The chief of state is KIM Chong-il [de facto]. President KIM Il-song was reelected without opposition 24 May 1990 and died 8 July 1994, leaving his son KIM Chong-il as designated successor; KIM Chong-il became General Secretary of the Korean Workers' Party on 8 October 1997, but has not assumed the presidency head of government. KANG Song-san was premier, but was in ill health; Vice Premier HONG Song-nam was acting premier since NA February 1997. The cabinet [State Administration Council] is appointed by the Supreme People's Assembly elections. The premier is elected by the Supreme People's Assembly

The Legislative branch consists of a unicameral Supreme People's Assembly or Ch'oego Inmin Hoeui (687 seats. Members are elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms. Elections were last held 7-9 April 1990 (next to be held NA). The term of the Assembly expired in April 1995 without a new election and it has not been convened since the death of KIM Il-song in July 1994. The KWP approves a single list of candidates who are elected without opposition; minor parties hold a few seats. The leading party is the Korean Workers' Party (KWP), KIM Chong-il, General Secretary; Korean Social Democratic Party, KIM Pyong-sik, chairman; Chondoist Chongu Party, YU Mi-yong, chairwoman.

The Judicial branch is headed by the Central Court, and judges are elected by the Supreme People's Assembly.

The state president was formerly North Korea's head of state and represented the state in foreign affairs. The state presidency was introduced to the Socialist Constitution adopted at the 1st session of the 10th-term Supreme People's Assembly in December, 1972. It was created for the purpose of providing institutional basis for Kim Il-sung's dictatorship, as well as for effective control of the government and execution of its policies. The state president was elected by the Supreme People's Assembly for a five-year term. The president is the head of state and represents the nation abroad, and chairs the Central People's Committee, in addition to supervising all the government institutions and functions. The president oversees all administration, diplomacy and legislation.

The chairmanship of the National Defense Commission, which the president held simultaneously, was separated from the presidency and then transferred to Kim Jong-il, excluding the president from all control over the military. The move was an institutional measure to firmly establish Kim Jong-il's control over the military after he had attained the position of Supreme Commander of the KPA.

The role of representing the nation abroad was granted to the secretary general of the standing committee of the Supreme People's Assembly, while the role as the head of government was assumed by the prime minister.

Since assuming the post of Supreme Commander of the army in December 1991, Kim Jong Il took great pains to place his trusted allies in key military posts to keep a firm control over the military, weeding out those who weren't willing to back him with force. Between December 1991 and April 2001, Kim, in his capacity as the Supreme Commander, promoted some 1,000 generals (of the military's 1,200 generals) over the course of 10 rounds of promotions on occasions such as the birthday of Kim Il Sung and on his own birthday (February 16 and April 15 respectively), the anniversary of the military's founding (April 25), and the anniversary of the signing of the Armistice Treaty (July 27).

Kim Jong-Il intensified his preferential treatment of the military after his father's death in July 1994 by placing his favorites in key posts. These initiatives reflected his judgment that control over the military is crucial for surviving domestic and international instability during the leadership changeover.

Due to the closed nature of the society, information on the extent and make-up of Kim's military inner circle was hard to obtain. Moreover, Kim's self-righteous and impulsive leadership style made it virtually impossible to make educated guesses about who might be among his favorites. All that one can conjecture with a degree of certainty is that the make-up of the inner circle can change at any time based on perceived loyalty to Kim.

Kim Jong Il began revitalizing the Party’s governing bodies in 2010, apparently as part of the effort to facilitate Kim Jong Un’s succession. The elder Kim called a Party Conference in September of that year, the first major Party meeting of its kind in almost 30 years (KCNA, 28 September 2010). Kim Jong Un debuted at the Conference, and the regime dramatically expanded the governing Political Bureau, which Kim Jong Il had allowed to atrophy since taking power in 1994.

Kim Jong Un, the youngest son of Kim Jong Il, was promoted to the Workers' Party Central Committee and the Party's Central Military Commission at the party convention in September 2010, and to the rank of four-star general of the Korean People's Army the day before, putting him in line to succeed his father. On December 19, 2011, North Korean State Television announced that the country's leader Kim Jong-il had died on December 17. North Korea proclaimed the beginning of the Kim Jong Un era on 22 December 2011, describing him as the "successor" of the nation's revolutionary undertakings "and leader of its people." Frequent leadership changes within the North Korean military caused some to question if the Kim Jong Un regime is unstable.

While Kim Jong-il bestowed immense power to the military during a famine in the 1990s, the young Kim shifted command back to the party. During the Kim Jong-un era, operations within the party have been normalized. The military has been placed under the party, no longer a special class, enjoying special favors.

He is bold and charismatic with the military, warm and friendly with children and not afraid to reveal his weaknesses. At the same time, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ruled with an iron fist. By 2014, three years into power, the young Kim was believed to be in the final stages of forming his own power base, ruthlessly removing anyone perceived to be disloyal.

Given North Korea's history and Kim Jong-un's age, he could realistically rule for another 30 to 40 years. Personnel changes are common in dictatorships, and it's important to remember that the young leader was still in the early stages of creating a "Kim Jong-un-style" North Korea. Officials appointed to key posts by the young Kim, like Military Politburo Chief Hwang Pyong-so, Defense Minister Jang Jong-nam and Chief of Staff Ri Yong-gil were in their 50s or 60s, much younger than their predecessors. With the elimination of former figures within the Kim Jong-il era and the rise of new figures, Kim Jong-un is creating a new structure of people that he will have direct control over.

Personnel moves at the 2012 Party Conference and spring 2012 session of the legislature — beyond Kim Jong Un’s assumption of the top slots — underscore the new leadership’s continued commitment to revitalizing the Party as an institution and its confidence in managing the system. Though state media billed the moves merely as filling vacancies, the leadership quietly elevated or replaced almost one-third of the ruling Political Bureau, many through unannounced retirements or dismissals. The personnel changes occurred in military, internal security, and economic organizations and are not clustered in one area.

These personnel moves built on steps that Kim Jong Il took in his final year to strengthen the Party, and they suggest that the new leadership also sees the Party as an important instrument of governance during the transition. The extent of the changes indicated that the new leadership is confident in its ability to manage the regime and its key stakeholders. Almost half of the membership of the Political Bureau that Kim Jong Il put in place at the 3rd Party Conference in 2010 has shifted in one way or another.

The rise of Hwang Pyong-so as North Korea's new military politburo chief was seen as a continuation of Kim Jong-un's attempts to solidify the party's control over the military. If Choe Ryong-hae established the basis of Kim Jong-un's control of the military among the higher ranks, it seems Hwang Pyong-so was appointed to spread this ideology to the lower ranks of the military. Hwang's career had been with the Workers' Party of Korea, meaning he is a former party official, not a military man. That's noteworthy since Hwang was appointed as the military's highest-ranking link to the party.

The sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was given a senior post in the ruling Worker's Party of Korea, confirming long-held rumors about her role in the government. The Korean Central News Agency on 25 November 2014 identified Kim Yo Jong as a vice director in the central committee of the Worker's Party, the sole governing faction in the communist state.

Kim Yo Jong, who was thought to be 26 or 27, has appeared in other state media reports alongside her brother, prompting speculation about her position. But until now she was never given a title. She is the only other member of the Kim family who is known to have taken a formal leadership position. Some observers say her role may be similar to that of Kim Kyong Hui, the sister of and close aide to the late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

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Page last modified: 11-12-2015 17:01:29 ZULU