Yough Pioneer Tours

Who is the North Korean head of state?

When I was younger I had a political awakening: I remember asking my father about heads of state, in particular the Queen of England, whom I observed had no actual power. When I asked why a country needed one, my dad said something along the lines of “they just do; it’s the done thing”. A very dad answer that didn’t really answer the question.

The status of the North Korean head of state is, as with many other countries, a tad complicated.

Kim Il Sung – Eternal North Korean head of state

Kim Il Sung was the founder and first president of the DPRK until he died in 1994. In 1980, Kim Jong Il had already assumed control of most of the duties associated with being the president. But his father was still the North Korean head of state.

Following the death of Kim Il Sung, and during the 1994-1997 period where Kim Jong Il emerged as supreme leader of the DPRK, it was somewhat ambiguous with whom the title of ‘head of state’ lay. From 1997-1998, things were even less clear.


North Korean Head of state President Kim Il Sung

In 1998 the title of ‘president’ was abolished and Kim Il Sung was declared the Eternal President of the DPRK. This means that North Korea has a deceased head of state, which makes it – if we want to get all smarty pants, and we do – a ‘necrocracy’.

Kim Jong Il remained supreme leader of the DPRK from 1998 to 2012, until his death and replacement by Marshal Kim Jong Un. The youngest Kim still rules the country to this day.

What does the North Korean head of state do?

This brings me back to the original dad-answer to my question: that it’s the “done thing”. You have countries like the UK that have a prime minister but also a head of state (in this case, a queen) who does head-of-state stuff like receiving diplomatic credentials etc. Then you have a country like North Korea who have supreme leaders, but also deceased heads of state. So who performs the responsibilities of the head of state?

These responsibilities are largely taken care of by the president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly (say that five times fast!). The current incumbent of this office is Choe Ryong Hae.

It truly is no simple world!

Get the skinny on the ‘head of state’ situation yourself on one of our North Korean tours!