North Korea Table of Contents

The Supreme People's Assembly

Although under the constitution the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA) is "the highest organ of state power," it is not influential and does not initiate legislation independently of other party and state organs. 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.

The constitution provides for the SPA to be elected every five years by universal suffrage. Article 88 indicates that legislative power is exercised by the SPA and the Standing Committee of the SPA when the assembly is not in session. Elections to the Ninth Supreme People's Assembly were held in April 1990, with 687 deputies, or representatives, elected. The KWP approves a single list of candidates who stand for election without opposition. Deputies usually meet once a year in regular sessions in March or April, but since 1985 they have also met occasionally in extraordinary sessions in November or December. Sessions are convened by the assembly's Standing Committee, whose chairman as of 1992 was Yang Hyong-sop (also a full member of the KWP Central Committee and a vice chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland). Assembly members are elected by the deputies, as are the chairman and vice chairmen. The assembly also has five committees: Bills, Budget, Foreign Affairs, Qualifications Screening, and Reunification Policy Deliberation.

Article 91 states that the assembly has the authority to adopt or amend the constitution, laws, and ordinances; formulate the basic principles of domestic and foreign policies; elect or recall the president of the state and other top officials of the government; approve the state economic plan and national budget; and decide whether to ratify or abrogate treaties and questions of war and peace. Matters deliberated are submitted by the president, the Central People's Committee, the assembly's Standing Committee, the State Administration Council (the cabinet), or individual deputies.

Assembly decisions are made by a simple majority and signified by a show of hands. Deputies, each representing a constituency of approximately 30,000 persons, are guaranteed inviolability and immunity from arrest. Between assembly sessions, the Standing Committee does legislative work; this body may also interpret and amend the laws and ordinances in force, conduct the election of deputies to the SPA, organize the election of deputies to local legislative bodies, conduct election of deputies to the SPA, convene sessions of the SPA and people's assessors or lay judges, and elect or recall judges of the Central Court.

The Executive Branch

The President and Vice Presidents

The president is the head of state and the head of government in his capacity as chairman of the Central People's Committee (CPC). The president is elected every four years by the SPA. The title "president" (chusk) was adopted in the 1972 constitution. Before 1972 an approximate equivalent of the presidency was the chairmanship of the Standing Committee of the SPA. The constitution has no provisions for removing, recalling, or impeaching the president, or for limiting the number of terms of service. On May 24, 1990, the SPA unanimously reelected Kim Il Sung to a fifth presidential term.

Presidential powers are stated only in generalities. The chief executive convenes and guides the State Administration Council as occasion demands. Under the 1972 constitution, he was also the supreme commander of the armed forces and chairman of the National Defense Commission--although Kim Il Sung appointed his son to the former position in December 1991 and to the latter position in April 1993. The president's prior assent is required for all laws, decrees, decisions, and directives. The president's edicts command the force of law more authoritatively than any other legislation. The president promulgates the laws and ordinances of the SPA; the decisions of the Standing Committee of the SPA; and the laws, ordinances, and decisions of the CPC. The president also grants pardons, ratifiers or abrogates treaties, and receives foreign envoys or requests their recall. No one serves in top government posts without the president's recommendation. Even the judiciary and the procurators are accountable to Kim Il Sung.

The constitution states that two vice presidents "assist" the president, but it does not elaborate a mode of succession. As of July 1992, Pak Sng-ch'l (elected in 1977) and Yi Chong-k (elected in 1984) were vice presidents of North Korea.

The Central People's Committee

The top executive decision-making body is the Central People's Committee (CPC) created under the 1972 constitution. Seven articles in the 1992 constitution relate to the CPC. The president of the DPRK is the head of the CPC; it is also composed of the vice presidents, the CPC secretary, and unspecified "members." The term is the same as that for the SPA. All CPC members are elected by the SPA and can be recalled by the assembly on presidential recommendation. Inasmuch as CPC members overlap with the top-ranking members of the party's Political Bureau, the CPC provides the highest visible institutional link between the government and the party and serves in effect as a de facto super-cabinet.

The CPC's formal powers are all-inclusive. Among its responsibilities are formulating domestic and foreign policies, directing the work of the State Administration Council and its local organs, directing the judiciary, ensuring the enforcement of the constitution and other laws, appointing or removing the vice premiers and cabinet members, establishing or changing administrative subdivisions or their boundaries, and ratifying or abolishing treaties signed with foreign countries. The CPC also may issue decrees, decisions, and instructions.

The CPC oversees nine commissions: economic policy, foreign policy, internal policy, justice and security, legislative, national defense, parliamentary group, state inspection, and state price fixing. The members of these commissions are appointed by the CPC. The National Defense Commission's vice chairmen (an unspecified number) are elected by the SPA on the recommendation of the president, who also is chairman of the commission.

The State Administration Council

Since 1972 the highest administrative arm of the government has been the State Administration Council. From 1948 to 1972, the cabinet was the highest level of the executive branch. The 1972 constitution changed the name and role of the cabinet. The newly named State Administration Council has a similar function to that of the cabinet, but is directed by the president and the CPC. The State Administration Council is composed of the premier (chong-ri), vice premiers (bochong-ri), ministers (boojang), committee chairmen, and other cabinet-level members of central agencies. Among its duties, the council is responsible for foreign affairs, national defense, public order and safety, economic and industrial affairs, general government operation, concluding treaties with foreign countries and conducting external affairs, and safeguarding the rights of the people. It also has the power to countermand decisions and directives issued by subordinate organs. The formulation of state economic development plans and measures for implementing them, the preparation of the state budget, and the handling of other monetary and fiscal matters also are under the council's jurisdiction.

As of mid-1993, the State Administration Council, headed by Premier Kang Song-san since December 1992, had ten vice premiers. Vice premiers often concurrently are ministers or chairpersons of cabinet-level commissions. Under the premier and vice premiers, there are ministries, commissions, and other bodies of the State Administration Council. Governmental responsibilities that require coordination and a close working relationship among two or more ministries are generally placed under a commission, whose chairman usually holds the title of vice premier.

The Judiciary

In the North Korean judicial process, both adjudicative and prosecuting bodies function as powerful weapons for the proletarian dictatorship. The constitution states that justice is administered by the central court, provincial- or special-city level courts, the people's court, or special courts.

The Central Court, the highest court of appeal, stands at the apex of the court system. As of July 1992, it had two associate chief judges, or vice presidents--Choe Yong-song and Hyon Hongsam . Pang Hak Se, who died in July 1992, had been chief judge, or president, since 1972. In the case of special cities directly under central authority, provincial or municipal courts serve as the courts of first instance for civil and criminal cases at the intermediate level. At the lowest level are the people's courts, established in ordinary cities, counties, and urban districts. Special courts exist for the armed forces and for railroad workers. The military courts have jurisdiction over all crimes committed by members of the armed forces or security organs of the Ministry of Public Security. The railroad courts have jurisdiction over criminal cases involving rail and water transport workers. In addition, the Korean Maritime Arbitration Committee adjudicates maritime legal affairs.

Judges and people's assessors, or lay judges, are elected by the organs of state power at their corresponding levels, those of the Central Court by the SPA's Standing Committee, and those of the lower courts by the provincial- and county-level people's assemblies. Neither legal education nor practical legal experience is required for judgeship. In addition to administering justice based on criminal and civil codes, the courts are in charge of political indoctrination through "reeducation." The issue of punishment is not expressly stated in the constitution or the criminal code.

The collective interests of the workers, peasants, soldiers, and working intellectuals are protected by a parallel hierarchy of organs controlled at the top by the Central Procurator's Office. This office acts as the state's prosecutor and checks on the activities of all public organs and citizens to ensure their compliance with the laws and their "active struggle against all lawbreakers." Its authority extends to the courts, the decisions of which (including those of the Central Court) are subject to routine scrutiny. A judgment of the Central Court may be appealed to the plenary session of the Central Court, of which the state's chief prosecutor is a statutory member.

The chief prosecutor, known as the procurator general, is appointed by and accountable in theory, though not in fact, to the SPA. As of mid-1993, the procurator general was Yi Yong-sp. There are three deputy procurators general.

Local Government

There are three levels of local government: province (do) and special province-level municipalities (chikalsi, or jikhalsi) (see Glossary); ordinary cities (si), urban districts (kuyk), and counties (gun, or kun); and traditional villages (ri, or ni). Towns and townships (myn) no longer functioned as administrative units in North Korea after the Korean War, but still exist in South Korea. At the village level, administrative and economic matters are the responsibility of the chairman of the cooperative farm management committee in each village.

As of mid-1993, there were nine provinces: Changang, North Hamgyng, and South Hamgyng, North Hwanghae and South Hwanghae, Kangwn, North P'yngan and South P'yngan, and Yanggang; three special provincial-level cities: Kaesng, Namp'o, and P'yongyang, municipalities under central authority; seventeen ordinary cities under provincial authority; thirty-six urban districts; over 200 counties; and some 4,000 villages. Among these divisions, the counties serve as the intermediate administrative link between provincial authorities and the grass-roots-level village organizations. Local organs at the county level provide other forms of guidance to such basic units as blocks and workers' districts (nodongja-ku).

Three types of local organs elect local officials to carry out centrally planned policies and programs: KWP local committees, local people's assemblies, and local administrative committees (such as local administration, economic guidance, and rural economic committees). These committees are local extensions of the three higher bodies at the national level: the Supreme People's Assembly, the Central People's Committee, and the State Administration Council.

The local people's assemblies, established at all administrative levels, perform the same symbolic functions as the SPA. They provide a fašade of popular support and involvement and serve as a vehicle through which loyal and meritorious local inhabitants are given visible recognition as deputies to the assemblies. The assemblies meet once or twice a year for only a few days at each session. Their duties are to approve the plan for local economic development and the local budget; to elect the officers of other local bodies, including the judges and people's assessors of the courts within their jurisdictions; and to review the decisions and directives issued by local organs at their corresponding and lower levels. The local people's assemblies have no standing committees. Between regular sessions, their duties are performed by the local people's committees, whose members are elected by assemblies at corresponding levels and are responsible both to the assemblies and to the local people's committees at higher levels.

The officers and members of the people's committees are influential locally as party functionaries and as senior administrative cadres. These committees can convene the people's assemblies; prepare for the election of deputies to the local assemblies; implement the decisions of the assemblies at the corresponding level and those of the people's committees at higher levels; and control and supervise the work of administrative bodies, enterprises, and social and cooperative organizations in their respective jurisdictions.

The day-to-day affairs of local communities are handled by the local administrative committees. The chairman, vice chairmen, secretary, and members of these bodies are elected by the local people's committees at the corresponding levels.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress