Korea, Democratic People's Republic of - Political background

After the end of World War II, Korea was liberated from Japanese colonialism with the United States controlling the southern zone and the Soviet Union the north. The People's Democratic Republic was organized on 9 September 1948, under the leadership of Kim Il Sung, known as the Great Leader in response to the establishment of South Korea. The two Koreas have maintained a hostile relationship from the beginning, with the North assisted by communist states and the South protected by U.S. troops stationed there. Even though both sides wanted unification, suspicion and hostilities grew. In 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea, only to be opposed by a United Nations (UN) force led primarily by the United States. An armistice was signed and borders were re-established at Panmunjom, the 38th Parallel. The heavily fortified borders still stand to this day, with troops from both sides on intense guard for the resumption of hostilities.

The communist state of North Korea is one of the few remaining authoritarian regimes in the post-Cold War world. Political authority is in the hands of the party, the military, and the bureaucracy with membership frequently overlapping. North Korea, a one party state, is dominated by the Korean Workers' Party (KWP). Under changes made in 1998 to the reformed 1972 Constitution, the post of president, formerly held by Kim Il Sung, was abolished, and executive authority was vested in the nation's current leader, Kim Jong Il, who is chairman of the National Defense Commission.

North Korea has a unicameral legislature, the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA—Ch'oego Inmin Hoeui), that meets for a few days annually. It has 687 members elected from party-approved nominees for five-year terms. Although it is nominally the highest organ of state power, policy rarely emanates from this body. Rather, assembly business is handled by a Presidium that was created in 1998. In addition, a small cabinet, replacing the former Administration Council, functions as an administrative and executive arm of the SPA.

The KWP actually controls power in North Korea through a system of overlapping membership in the party, executive, and legislative posts. The Party Congress which meets infrequently, elects the Party Central Committee, which in turn selects the Politburo. A Presidium presides over the Politburo. Together, the two control the party bureaucracy and the various party organs. The general secretary, chosen by the Party Central Committee, heads the party.

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