The politics of North Korea take place within a nominally democratic multi-party system within the framework of the official state philosophy, Juche, a concept created by Hwang Chang-yŏp for and later attributed to Kim Il-sung. In practice, North Korea functions as a single-party state under a totalitarian family dictatorship, described even as an absolute monarchy with Kim Il-sung and his heirs adopting many aspects similar to the Empire of Japan, especially under Tennō Hirohito in the 1930s, including propaganda style, “paranoid nationalism”, xenophobia, and racism – leading to the most recent characterization by some academics as national-socialist state.
Economist Intelligence Unit, while admitting that “there is no consensus on how to measure democracy” and that “definitions of democracy are contested”, lists North Korea in last place as the most authoritarian regime in its index of democracy assessing 167 countries.
North Korea's political system is built upon the principle of centralization. While the constitution guarantees the protection of human rights, in practice there are severe limits on freedom of expression, and the government supervises the lives of the people closely. The constitution defines North Korea as "a dictatorship of the people's democracy" under the leadership of the Workers' Party of Korea, which is de facto the only legally permitted party. Despite the constitution's provisions for democracy, in practice, the Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-il (son of the state's founder, Kim Il-sung), exercised absolute control over the government and the country, until 2011.
The ruling party, the WPK, is thought to allow some slight inner-party democracy (see Democratic centralism). The WPK has ruled since the creation in 1948. Two minor political parties exist but are legally bound to accept the ruling role of the WPK. Elections occur only in single-candidate races where the candidate has been selected by the WPK beforehand. Kim Il-sung served as General Secretary of the WPK from 1948 until his death in July 1994, simultaneously holding the office of Prime Minister from 1948 to 1972 and the office of President from 1972 to 1994. After his son won full power in 1998, the presidential post was written out of the constitution, and Kim Il-sung was designated the country's "Eternal President". Most analysts believe the title to be a product of the cult of personality he cultivated during his life.
The Western world generally views North Korea as a dictatorship; the government has formally replaced all references to Marxism-Leninism in its constitution with the locally developed concept of Juche, or self-reliance. In recent years, there has been great emphasis on the Songun or "military-first" philosophy. All references to communism were removed from the North Korean constitution in 2009.
The status of the military has been enhanced and it appears to occupy the center of the North Korean political system; all the social sectors are forced to follow the military spirit and adopt military methods. Kim Jong-il's public activity focused heavily on on-the-spot guidance of places and events related to the military. The enhanced status of the military and military-centered political system was confirmed at the first session of the 10th Supreme People's Assembly (SPA) by the promotion of National Defense Commission (NDC) members in the official power hierarchy. All ten NDC members were ranked within the top twenty on September 5, and all but one occupied the top twenty at the fiftieth anniversary of National Foundation Day on September 9.
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