In theory, the highest organ of state power is the unicameral Supreme People's Assembly (SPA), with 687 members in 2003. In practice, however, governmental control rests with the leadership of the Korean Workers' (Communist) Party and the military. SPA members are elected every five years and meet for only a few days each year to ratify decisions made by other governmental and party organs. As part of a series of constitutional changes made by the SPA in its 1998 session, a Presidium was created to operate as the top governmental body between sessions of the SPA, performing functions that formerly belonged to a 19-member Standing Committee and the 24-member Central People's Committee.
Under the constitution (first adopted in 1948, completely revised in 1972, revisions in 1992 and 1998), the SPA also elected the president of the DPRK; however, as of 1998, following the death of Kim Il Sung four years earlier, the post of president was abolished. In addition, the responsibilities of the cabinet (formerly called the Administrative Council) were expanded.
The state ideology is self-reliance (Chuch'e or Juch'e), the Korean version of Marxism-Leninism that was formulated in 1930 and adopted by the party in 1955. Under the new constitution (which created the post of president), Kim Il Sung, who had previously held state power as premier (1948–72), was elected to the presidency in 1972 and reelected in 1977, 1982, 1986, and 1990. Kim Il Sung died 8 July 1994. Kim Jong Il assumed his father's responsibilities and was formally acknowledged as the nation's leader at the 1998 session of the SPA. Hong Song Nam has been Premier since September 1998.
Suffrage extends to all men and women 17 years of age or older. Elections are on a single slate of Communist-approved candidates, on a yes or no basis. Following elections, it is usually asserted that nearly all those eligible voted and that their votes were unanimous in favor of the candidates.