Party up, army down in the DPRK
Representatives Yoon Sang-hyun of South Korea’s Saenuri Party, a member of the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee, told the JoongAng Ilbo that he had obtained a once-secret report from several government organizations entitled “North Korea’s 30 Inner-Circle Elites.”
“After analyzing the report, in which the government investigated the power structure of the North Korean Workers’ Party, the government and the military, I found that 25 of the 30 most powerful people in North Korea have positions in the ruling party’s Politburo,” Yoon said.
According to the report, the 25 power elite include two standing members, 11 members and 12 nominated members of the Politburo.
When Kim Jong-il was in power, there were only eight high-profile officials with posts in the Politburo: Kim himself, who was the only standing member of the group, three members and five nominated members.
But under Kim Jong-un, the Politburo is emerging as a core organization. Kim Yong-nam, chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea, and Choe Ryong-hae, director of the General Political Bureau of the North Korean Army, both regarded as inner-circle aides to Kim Jong-un, have both been appointed standing members of the Politburo.
“We see that the role of the party is emerging in the regime, given the fact that Choe, whose ties are with the party, has been named director of the General Political Bureau of the North Korean Army,” said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior research specialist on North Korea with the Sejong Institute, a Korean think tank.
Additionally, Kim Jong-un’s powerful aunt, Kim Kyong-hui; uncle, Jang Song-thaek; Pak Pong-ju, prime minister; and Kim Ki-nam, secretary of the central committee of the ruling party, have been all named members of the bureau. Kim Yang-gon, director of the United Front Department of the party, who is the top decision-maker in inter-Korean affairs; Kwak Pom-gi, a party secretary in charge of economic affairs; and Ro Tu-chol, vice prime minister of the North Korean cabinet, have all been appointed as nominated members of the bureau. The expansion of the Politburo, which Kim had worked on steadily since his first public appearance in September 2010, has accelerated since North Korea revised its regulations for the party and its national constitution in April 2012.
In particular, the ruling party began convening a number of meetings that were rarely held during Kim Jong-il’s time: meetings of party representatives, the party’s central committee, the Politburo, the Central Military Commission and others. The meetings appeared to be substantive, including a decision to adopt a “two-track strategy of nuclear armament and economic development.”
Some lower-level meetings of the party also took place, including the fourth meeting of secretaries of the party’s cells, or local districts, in January.
As the Politburo waxes, the National Defense Commission wanes, and at a seemingly fast pace. First, the party’s Central Military Commission has emerged as a substitute, or at least a rival, of the NDC. At a party meeting in September 2010, party members revised the DPRK Workers’ Party Rules, Clause 27, to designate the Central Military Commission as the organization in charge of military policies of the regime.
In September 2012, the party also revised the Code of Conduct in Case of War to designate the CMC as the top decision-making body for war operations, a job earlier held by the NDC. The military also went through a purge of senior officials, including the dismissal of Ri Yong-ho, the chief of the general staff of the army, in July 2012. Kim Jong-un filled the vacancies with low-profile figures, appointing one- or two-star unknown generals to senior posts.
One of the rising military stars is Ri Yong-gil, the newly-minted chief of the general staff of the army, who was until that time director of the army’s operation bureau in North Korea’s Kangwon Province.
While boosting the ruling party, Kim Jong-un has also strengthened the authority of the cabinet in dealing with economic policies.
BY JEONG WON-YEOB AND KIM KYUNG-JIN [firstname.lastname@example.org]