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Constitution of the DPRK

By James E. Hoare

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has had a number of constitutions since its establishment in 1948

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The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has had a number of constitutions since its establishment in 1948. The first was adopted in September 1948. It had 10 chapters and 104 articles. It defined the legislative body, the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA), as the highest state organization. It would be elected on a full adult franchise, with one delegate representing 30,000 constituents, and would have a four-year term. It was to meet twice a year, and when the SPA was not in session, a presidium of leading members of the assembly would carry out its full functions. The cabinet was defined as the “highest executive organ” of the state and was in theory subordinate to the SPA. The cabinet would consist of a premier (sometimes translated as chairman), vice premiers, ministers, and chairs of commissions. The premier was commander of the armed forces and also chairman of the National Defense Commission (NDC). Paralleling this structure was a system of local assemblies, which would, under the overall control of the SPA, carry out local functions. From the beginning, the DPRK media reported 100 percent turnouts for SPA elections and this has continued. The arrangements bore a strong resemblance to practices in the former Soviet Union.

The first session of the fifth SPA adopted a new constitution in December 1972, with 11 chapters and 49 articles. This constitution redefined the office of president, who now became the chief executive rather than a ceremonial figure. He would be above the SPA and would be commander of the armed forces. In other ways, the structure remained similar, although clearly with the creation of the office of president, the role of the premier was down-graded, especially as Kim IlSeong, formerly premier, was now president. The 1972 Constitution was described as the “socialist constitution.” A constitutional amendment in April 1992 re-created the National Defense Commissions an independent state organ, second only to the SPA. In April 1993, Kim Jong Il, eldest son and designated successor to President Kim Il Sung, who had hitherto been an NDC vice chair, became chair and commander in chief of the DPRK armed forces.

Four years after the death of Kim Il Sung, the first session of the 10thSPA meeting in September 1998 introduced what was called the Kim Il Sung Constitution. This had seven chapters and 166 articles. The preamble to the Constitution defined Kim Il Sung as the great leader of the country and pledged to complete the juche revolution, based on his ideas. The position of executive president was abolished. Instead Kim Il Sung was declared “perpetual president,” while the NDC was to be “the highest organ of state.” The Constitution therefore effectively endorsed Kim Jong Il as the leader. This was made more explicit in April 2009 when the 12thSPA made changes to the 1998 Constitution, modifying some sections and adding six new articles, making a total of 172. The chairman of the NDC was declared supreme leader of the DPRK, who would oversee the “entire national business.” He would appoint military officers, ratify or abrogate treaties, appoint special envoys, and could declare a state of emergency or war. Some commentators saw these changes as part of the preparation for Kim Jong Il’s successor.

All rights reserved. No portion of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior written permission of the publisher. (Historical Dictionary of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, by James E. Hoare, published by RLPG Books, appears by permission of the author and publisher).