Inner circle in regime mostly stays intact

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Inner circle in regime mostly stays intact

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In a screen grab on Wednesday from a television news broadcast, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, center, North Korean military’s top political officer Choe Ryong-hae, right, and Kim Yong-nam, left, head of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, applaud at the end of the Supreme People’s Assembly in Pyongyang, North Korea. [AP/NEWSIS]

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un maintained most of his inner circle of confidants without a massive power shake-up, Seoul officials confirmed yesterday following an analysis of a meeting of newly elected members of the ruler’s rubber-stamp parliament.

Contrary to advance speculation by some government officials and analysts in Seoul, most high-ranking military and party officials were re-elected to their previous posts at North Korea’s 13th Supreme People’s Assembly, which was held Wednesday in Pyongyang, the regime’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.

A widespread shake-up predicted in the wake of the execution of Kim Jong-un’s powerful uncle Jang Song-thaek last December did not occur.

“Kim Jong-un chose stability rather than change,” a South Korean government official told reporters yesterday. “He appears intent to minimize any internal instability that could be caused by the purge of Jang Song-thaek and manage state affairs stably, while the regime continues to be isolated by the international community.

“Because he kept most officials in their posts without giving new policy-making directives, we can assume he will keep his current policy slogans for a while,” the official added.

It was anticipated that two high-profile officials would be dismissed at Wednesday’s meeting: Kim Yong-nam, the chairman of the Presidium of the Assembly, an 85-year-old official who has served the post for decades, and Pak Pong-ju, the cabinet premier, who was rumored to have been purged over his few contributions to the moribund economy.

However, they both remained in their posts, the KCNA said, although a few members were replaced in the presidium. In the National Defense Commission, a powerful decision-making body led by Kim, Choe Ryong-hae, a top military official who is a rising star under the new leader’s rule, was appointed as one of three vice chairmen on the commission.

The other two vice chairmen remained the same. Choe, who served as the special envoy for Kim Jong-un and met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in May 2013, replaced Jang, the leader’s late uncle who was previously a vice chairman. The North’s state media called Choe’s name first before the other two vice chairmen were announced, apparently in recognition of his position as the second most powerful figure in the regime.

The regime also re-elected Kim Jong-un as “the first chairman” of the commission, which is the de facto head of the body. The chairman of the commission is the late ruler Kim Jong-il, the father of Kim Jong-un, who was called “the eternal chairman” of the body.

Kim Jong-un’s powerful aunt, Kim Kyong-hui, was not elected to any important position in the Assembly, according to KCNA’s list of Assembly members. Since the death of her husband, Jang, she has been rumored to have stepped down from political life in North Korea.

At Wednesday’s session, 666 out of 687 members of the Assembly attended the meeting. The government official said there had always been absentees at the previous sessions held in Pyongyang due to some members working in remote regions far from the capital city or some military officials attending to important duties.

The assemblymen also discussed the state budget, which was predetermined by the ruling Workers’ Party.

According to the Seoul’s estimates, North Korea’s 2014 budget is estimated to be about $7.1 billion, a 4.3 percent increase from 2013.

In 2013, North Korea’s revenue was estimated to be about $6.7 billion, according to an analysis by South Korea’s Ministry of Unification.

The defense budget accounts for 16 percent of the total in 2013. Last year, Pyongyang spent 45.2 percent of its budget on boosting the economy and 38.8 percent on developing culture, the KCNA said.

BY KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]



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