Thursday, April 12, 2007

How does North Korea work?

This upbeat gentleman was appointed Prime Minister of North Korea yesterday. As is the case with all government decisions in NK, there was "no explanation" for why he was appointed or why the old prime minister was fired. ALL HAIL THE NEW PRIME MINISTER.

The obvious question to ask is- wait, North Korea has a Prime Minister? I was shocked myself.
Their system of government is confusing to say the least, but theoretically it works something like this:

Kim Il-Sung was the first leader of North Korea. The Soviets installed him as General Secretary of the Communist Party after their military left the peninsula in 1948. A few days later the new Communist legislature appointed him Prime Minister, or "Premier" as we usually say in reference to Commie regimes. In 1972 the North Korean constitution was changed, and Kim Il-Sung upgraded himself to President, giving himself new and greater powers in the process. Someone else became Premier, but the job downgraded and became irrelevant and pointless. This is the job the guy above has inherited. He doesn't have to do much except preside over the North Korean "Supreme People's Assembly," which according to this article is "a rubber-stamp body" that "convenes irregularly once or twice a year." So I'm sure he can handle it.

Kim Il-Sung died in 1994, and according to official government press releases "many animals wept." All sorts of wacky things were done in that emotional time, including another change to the constitution which said that Mr. Kim would be president forever, even in death. So no one else was allowed to assume that job.

No one really led North Korea from 1994 to 1998. Things were very constitutionally ambiguous. Little Kim Jong-Il, the son of K.I.S., was groomed for succession to his father, but was initially quite reluctant. In 1993 Kim Jong had been appointed Chairman of the Defense Committee, which in essence made him head of the armed forces, but it was not a hugely important post and after his father's death he was still outranked by many other officials within the party and state bureaucracy.

Little Kim became more self-confident as the years went on, and party infighting led to him emerging as the favored candidate to lead the nation. In 1998 the constitution was changed to make Chairman of the Defense Committee the "highest office of the state" and Kim was installed as the new secretary of the Communist Party, a post which had gone vacant until then. These are the jobs which he still holds to this day. And this is why it's easier to just call him the "dear leader."

The new Prime Minister's name is Kim Yong-Il, by the way. I thought that was amusing.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the explanation- I've been mighty confused up until now!

iod said...

Hi JJ. I hope you don't mind too much, but I found this so interesting that I translated it to Hebrew and posted it on my blog (, with due credit and all, of course.

If you don't like this and want me to remove this, I'll understand. Let me know.

JJ said...

Not at all sir, I am quite touched.

Anonymous said...

um there seems to be a typo there, the first leader was Kim Il-Sung, not Kim Il-Jung :)

JJ said...

Well it's an Asian name so there are no super set-in-stone English version. "Kim Il-Jung" and "Il-Sung" are both used. But I will change it to Sung if you're more familar with that.