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President of North Korea

Kim Il-sung, eternal president of North Korea and president of the DPRK

Who is North Korea’s President? The official President of North Korea is Kim Il Sung, who died in 1994. How does that work? We are happy to explain!

North Korea, officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (check out the meaning of that here) is a republic. Traditionally, this would mean it has a President as head of state, but as with many things in the DPRK, it is a little more complicated than that!

History of the North Korean Presidency

When North Korea was founded in 1948, there was no such post as President, much like in the former Soviet Union. Generally speaking, in such socialist countries the highest organs of State were known as Premier and Chairman of the ruling party, in this case, the Workers Party of Korea. Kim Il Sung held these posts from 1948 and 1972 and whilst he was without a doubt the most powerful person in the country, he did not act as head of state or as what we would call President during that time.

Who were the first heads of state of North Korea?

Between 1948 and 1972, the Chairman of the Standing Committee of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea acted as the de facto head of state. Kim Tu Bong held the position until 1957. Choe Yong-Gon then represented North Korea from 1957 – 1972.

Why was Kim Il Sung not head of state?

In this respect, North Korea had a more ceremonial Presidency with the organs of state controlled by the government not the presidency. Many Western countries have figurehead presidents and even Fidel Castro was only initially Prime Minister of Cuba.

When did North Korea get a Presidency?

North Korean changed to a Presidential system in 1972. At that time, Kim Il Sung became the first and, until now, the only president of the DPRK.

In 1980 General Kim Jong Il assumed many more of the matters of state than previously.

What changed for the North Korean Presidency?

In 1994 President Kim Il Sung passed away, after which General Kim Jong Il assumed power during the three years of official mourning. He did not though assume the role of President of North Korea, though. Between 1994 and 1998, the position of President of the DPRK can thus be viewed as vacant.

Eternal Presidency

In the constitution of 1998, the possibility to fill the role of President anew was officially abolished and Kim Il Sung was named eternal President of the DPRK.

The preamble of the Constitution of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea as of 5th September 1998 reads as follows :

    “Under the leadership of the Workers’ Party of Korea, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Korean people will hold the great leader Comrade Kim Il-sung in high esteem as the eternal President of the Republic”

Who held the Head of state role in North Korea after the death of President Kim Il-sung?

General Kim Jong-Il, de facto supreme leader of North Korea

Following the death of President Kim Il-Sung, the Supreme Leader of the DPRK became the Chairman of the National Defense Commission, General Kim Jong Il. Now whilst he was the undoubted leader of the country, he did not act as the head of state.

Generally speaking, most duties of Head of State/President of North Korea fell onto the President of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly! From 1998 until 2019, this role was held by Kim Yong-Nam.

Who is the current President of North Korea?

Kim Yong-Nam, former president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly
Kim Yong-nam, former president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly

Leadership of North Korea no longer comes from being Chairman of the National Defense Commission, which has been abolished, but by being Chairman of the State Affairs Commission, a role currently held by Chairman Kim Jong-Un. In this role he is paramount leader of North Korea.

He does not take part in traditionally-held presidential duties, such as ranking the credentials of foreign diplomats. That role is, again, held by the President of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly.

In 2019, Kim Yong-Nam was replaced as the President of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly by Choe Ryong-hae, who as well as being second-in-command of the military of North Korea can also be seen as the current figurehead President of North Korea.

And that is the complicated world of North Korean politics!

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