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(News Focus) N.K. parliamentary meeting to cement leader's one-man rule: experts

2016/06/28 10:37

By Kim Soo-yeon

SEOUL, June 28 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is expected to use this week's parliamentary meeting as a venue to reassert his one-man rule, with local Pyongyang watchers predicting Tuesday that he may be bestowed with a new title.

On Wednesday, North Korea plans to convene a major meeting of the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA) in a follow-up to the party congress in May, when Kim was elected as the chairman of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea (WPK).

The SPA, the legislative body of the reclusive country, rubber-stamps decisions by more powerful organizations, such as the WPK and the National Defense Commission (NDC).

At the WPK's recent congress, the first to be held in 36 years, the North's leader made it clear that he will "permanently" defend the dual pursuit of developing nuclear weapons and boosting the country's moribund economy, commonly known as the "byeongjin" policy.

Experts said that the upcoming assembly meeting will add the finishing touches to the North Korean leader's grip on power, which was inherited in late 2011 following the death of his father Kim Jong-il.

"Since the seventh party congress was an event to mark the beginning of the Kim Jong-un era, it would not be surprising if North Korea puts out a new Constitution," said Ken Gause, a senior analyst on North Korea at the CNA Corp. in the United States.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un announces the conclusion of the congress of the Workers' Party of Korea in this photo carried by the Rodong Sinmun, the North's main newspaper, on May 10, 2016. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap) North Korean leader Kim Jong-un announces the conclusion of the congress of the Workers' Party of Korea in this photo carried by the Rodong Sinmun, the North's main newspaper, on May 10, 2016. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

Seoul's unification ministry said that the communist country is likely to conduct an overhaul of Cabinet organs and reshuffle government officials in a bid to back the main decisions made at the WPK's congress.

"There is a possibility that the country could change the leader's current title of the first chairman of the NDC," the ministry handling inter-Korean affairs said.

If the North were to give Kim a new title, it would be to reaffirm the leader's complete control over government organizations, on top of his rule over the party, experts said.

Kim held the title of the first secretary of the WPK before the party congress. His two other titles are the first chairman of the NDC, which was bestowed at the SPA session in 2012, and the supreme commander of the Korean People's Army.

Some analysts said that the North may restore the organization named the Central People's Committee (CPC) and give him the title of the committee's chairman.

The constitution, which was revised in 1972, created the CPC, the highest organ controlling the executive, legislative and administrative branches. At that time, the NDC served as the subcommittee of the CPC.

Kim Il-sung, the country's late founder and the grandfather of the current leader, served as the head of the CPC. The committee was abolished in 1998 under the Kim Jong-il regime, which strengthened the NDC's role and advocated a military first, or "songun," policy.

"Given that the North's current leader seeks a 'byeongjin' policy, the CPC may be a more suitable state apparatus than the NDC in implementing his line of policies," said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior researcher at the Sejong Institute.

The parliamentary meeting comes amid heightened tension as North Korea launched two Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missiles last week.

Pyongyang claimed the second launch was successful, saying the missile has the capability to strike U.S. forces in the Pacific region.

In March, the North was slapped with tougher sanctions by the U.N. Security Council over its fourth nuclear test and long-range rocket launch in the following month.

"In the absence of economic progress, the North's leader must use missile tests and other shows of force to highlight his bona fides internally as a strong leader," Gause said.

Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University cast a similar view, saying that the latest missile test could be used to muster internal support for defiance against international pressure.

North Korea fires off what it calls the Hwasong-10 medium-long-range strategic ballistic missile on June 22, 2016, in this photo carried by the Rodong Sinmun, the North's main newspaper. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap) North Korea fires off what it calls the Hwasong-10 medium-long-range strategic ballistic missile on June 22, 2016, in this photo carried by the Rodong Sinmun, the North's main newspaper. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

Local experts said that at the SPA session, Pyongyang is likely to replace several aged officials with younger elites, including the NDC's current vice chairmen -- the 91-year-old Ri Yong-mu and the 86-year-old O Kuk-ryol.

"Even if North Korea maintains the NDC, the posts of the commission's vice chairmen may be abolished," said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies.

A group of North Korean defectors last week said that North Korea may propose holding talks between the two Koreas' parliamentary speakers at the SPA meeting.

Since the party congress, North Korea has offered to hold military talks with South Korea, but Seoul rejected it as a propaganda ploy without sincerity.

"North Korea is seeking to make the proposal for parliamentary dialogue one of the main agenda items for the SPA session," Kim Heung-kwang, executive director at North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity, told reporters on Thursday, citing internal information from the North.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr

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