12th SPA’s 3rd session–second meeting in 2010

The DPRK’s Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) just held a rare second session this year.  According to the Wall Street Journal:

“There was no discussion about the Cheonan stuff,” said Kim Young-soo, a professor at Sogang University in Seoul. “It was more focused on internal politics and administration.”

Jang Song Taek, who is married to Mr. Kim’s younger sister, was named vice chairman of National Defense Commission, the highest state body in North Korea. Mr. Kim is the commission’s chairman, his only title.

In the other prominent appointment Monday, Choe Yong Rim was appointed premier, the job that is portrayed in North Korea as the second-most powerful but that outside analysts consider below the importance of a seat on the defense commission. He succeeds Kim Yong Il, whose travels overseas gave him more contact with foreign leaders than Kim Jong Il has ever had. The two Kims are not related.

Analysts said the change in premiership appeared tied to the economic reform measures from last December that created a backlash noticeable for its volume and visibility to outsiders. Several lower positions were also changed for that reason, said the South Korean professor Mr. Kim, noting the use of the term “recall” in the North’s official announcement.

“In North Korea when the regime ‘recalls’ an official, it means the person wrongly implemented policies and should take responsibility for it,” he said. “So the ‘recalled’ officials, not Kim Jong Il, are publicly blamed for their failed handling of the administration.”

Mr. Jang since 2007 has been seen as Mr. Kim’s closest aide and is believed to be playing a key role in rallying support among the country’s elite for Kim Jong Eun, Mr. Kim’s third son, to succeed the dictator. Mr. Jang, who is 64 years old and whose background is in political operations of the regime, was appointed just last year to the defense commission.

“Kim wants to keep more tight grip on party elites and people by giving more power to Jang,” says Cheong Seong-chang, director of inter-Korean studies at the Sejong Institute, a private think tank in Seoul.

Mr. Jang becomes one of four vice chairmen of the 11-person commission, though is the one closest to Kim Jong Il.

Mr. Choe, 81 years old, has been associated with the ruling Kim family for decades, having served as a confidential secretary to Mr. Kim’s father, Kim Il Sung, who started North Korea in 1948 and led it until his death in 1994.

Mr. Choe most recently served as chief secretary of the Pyongyang City Committee of the Korean Workers’ Party and, in recent months, attended numerous public functions with Kim Jong Il, including a trip to the remote city of Hamhung and opening of an indoor swimming pool in Pyongyang.

Mr. Choe was economic planning minister in the 1980s, mining minister in the 1990s and chief prosecutor in Pyongyang earlier this decade.

This year has been volatile for Mr. Kim’s regime. Not counting Monday’s changes, 11 prominent members of the regime have died, been replaced or been shuffled out of view so far this year, according to a count by the web site NK Leadership Watch. The disappearance of one of those, Pak Nam Gi, is mired in controversy, with some reports in South Korean media saying that he was executed for the economic-reform mess.

Read the full Wall Street Journal story here:

North Korea Shifts Leaders
Wall Street Journal
Woo Jae-yeon
6/7/2010

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