Viktor A. Burlakov
Far Eastern Federal University, Vladivostok
Abstract: The article analyzes the organization of today’s political power system in North Korea: 1) Workers’ Party of Korea 2) Armed forces 3) Bodies of state power. Based on this, conclusions are drawn about the logic of political decision-making in the DPRK, the directions of the probable development of domestic and international regional situation.
Keywords: DPRK, Workers’ Party of Korea, Korean People’s Army, Cabinet of the DPRK, political decisions
Political processes in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea are mainly non-public. The political decision-making processes seem to be the most closed. Judgments about it may be made only on the basis of some indirect data. However, the perception of logic and nature of these processes is a necessary condition for analyzing the actions of the country’s leadership.
Within the framework of this article, an attempt is made to consider the organization of political power system that has developed in the DPRK at the moment. Understanding the model of this organization should contribute to a better understanding of the political decision-making processes. It seems that even under the conditions of an authoritarian regime and the concentration of power levers in the hands of one person, decision-making is determined by the most influential pressure groups that are able to formulate the agenda and the pressing problems of the country’s socio-economic development.
In North Korea the decision-making processes and the system of power relations have certain specific features. The position of the subject in power is determined, first of all, by his status in the state or party hierarchy and, then, by the system of his social ties. The DPRK top leadership follows a policy of constant personnel changes, both in the highest echelons and on the middle level. Thus, it does not give opportunity for subjects in power to acquire stable
horizontal ties. Therefore, all assumptions about possible elite groups in the leadership of North Korea should be treated very critically. In addition, the country does not have a system of lobbying in the form adopted in the West (USA and Europe). Therefore, stable corruption links between the manufacturing sector and state and party officials cannot be formed. Because of this, the political processes in the country are determined by the most influential “institutionalized” structures of political power system.
Today, there are the following structures, a kind of “political power clusters”.
1. Workers’ Party of Korea 2. Armed Forces
3. Bodies of state power, managing the national economy.
Traditionally, in North Korea the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) has always been considered as the main center of political power. The dominant and leading role of the Party is fixed in the DPRK constitution of 1972, and this provision has never been revised. The number of WPK is estimated at 3.467 thousand members (for 2016), which is about 13% of the country’s population . The activities of all other parties and public organizations in the DPRK are strictly controlled and regulated by the WPK. The Party has a monopoly in the ideological sphere: any dissent is severely persecuted.
The party leadership system has a rigid hierarchical structure. The lower structures are directly subordinate to the higher ones. Their relationship is based on the principles of army discipline. Though the public authorities system contains some elements of democracy – electability, collegiality in decision-making, certain independence in the implementation of activities, then the activities of the WPK governing bodies are based on the principles of strict subordination.
An element of party management is present in all spheres of North Korean life: at enterprises, in organizations and institutions of the national economy, in the armed forces and law enforcement agencies. The state authorities, in fact, occupy a subordinate position in relation to the party bodies. This is especially evident at provincial and municipal levels. It can be claimed that party bodies do not simply control the activities of economic organizations and state institutions, but direct them.
However, even with such an exclusive status, the WPK is not the main center of power in North Korea. During the period of Kim Jong Il, the country’s political elite was dominated by the belief that the DPRK policy is determined by the army, and the Party is an instrument of this policy.
Since the WPK 6th Congress in 1980, Party congresses (officially the highest governing body) have not been convened. After the death of Kim Il Sung in 1994, the WPK Central Committee (Party’s main governing body between congresses) has not met, and a little later, the Politburo (the Party’s operational management body) probably also ceased to meet. After the practice of co-opting was abandoned, the membership of the Central Committee and the Politburo elected in 1980 was almost halved due to natural attrition.
The actual leadership of the party organizations was built according to the following scheme: the WPK General Secretary – secretaries of the WPK Central Committee – heads of the Central Committee Departments – executive secretaries of the WPK local committees. Kim Jong Il relied on the military to run the country. He had complete control over the party system and did not need additional support. In September 1998, the National Defense Commission (NDC) has become the country’s key governing body. It consisted mainly of the military (of the 10 NDC members only three were civilians, moreover, in positions that knowingly implied their subordinate position).
Initially Kim Jong Un proclaimed the “pyonjin” (“parallel development”) policy, which means the parallel development of the economy and nuclear missile potential. One of its aspects is the reliance on both military and civilian party officers. However, his son Kim Jong Un, having set a course for changes in the country’s economy, had to face opposition from the military circles, who tried to subdue the young leader and strengthen their positions.
Party congresses began to be held regularly again. In May 2016, the WPK 7th Congress was held (the first in the last 36 years), and in January 2021, the 8th Congress. Both congresses ended with sessions of the DPRK Supreme People’s Assembly. As a result, a new system of DPRK government has been formed. The State Affairs Commission (SAC), chaired by Kim Jong Un, has become the central body of state power. The position of the President of the SAC is the position of the head of state. In the system of party leadership, Kim Jong Un restored the capacity of the highest party bodies: Central Committee, Politburo, Politburo`s Presidium and Secretariat. On January 11, 2021, Kim Jong Un has been elected to the post of the WPK General Secretary.
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