September 4, 2003
by Andrew Ward
Kim Jong Il yesterday staged a rare cabinet reshuffle, replacing several top officials with younger men in an apparent attempt to strengthen his power base.
Mr. Kim face a twin threat to his Stalinist regime from looming economic collapse and increasing pressure from a US government angered by the state’s development of nuclear weapons.
Mr. Kim replaced his prime minister, two of his three deputy premiers and five ministers in what South Korean reporters said was the most far-reaching government shake-up for five years.
Analysts in the south speculate Mr. Kim was replacing ageing officials associated with Kim Il Sung his late father and former leader. In their place, had come younger officials more loyal to the current leader.
Diplomats and intelligence officials, who admit their assessments about the reclusive regime are little better than guess work, hoped the promotion of younger officials would clear the way for political and economic reforms resisted by the old guard.
Economic reforms introduced last year – wages and prices were raised to meet market values – fuelled hopes that North Korea might open up, but there have been few further signs of change.
Some of those replaced held important economic planning posts, perhaps reflecting Mr. Kim’s concern about the parlous state of the country’s economy.
South Korea‘s Yonhap news agency said 52% of North Korea’s new power elite was aged under 55. However there was no sign of a shift away from Mr. Kim’s “army first policy” of concentrating power and resources with North Korea’s 1.1 million-strong army.
Most top military leaders kept their jobs – including Mr. Kim himself, who was re-elected Chairman of the National Defense Commission, the country’s most powerful body – and the legislature approved measures to strengthen the “nuclear deterrent force”.
Pak Pong Ju, former minister for the chemical industry, was elected prime minister, replacing Hong Song Nam, according to North Korean media monitored by Yonhap.
“The cabinet will work out a scientific and bold economic strategy and operational plan as required by the new century and dynamically implement them to build a strong national economic power suited to the great prosperous powerful nation,” Mr. Pak said.