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2009/10/01 11:14 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 74 (October 1, 2009)


N. Korea's Revised Constitution Drops Communism, Strengthens Kim's Rule

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's revised constitution, which remained a secret to the outside world since its adoption in April, has recently been made available to the public. The new constitution further empowers Kim Jong-il as the state's supreme leader, highlighting his Songun, or military-first, politics and deemphasizing the importance of communism.

   The Supreme People's Assembly (SPA), the North's parliament, amended the constitution for the first time in 11 years in April, though the full text of the revised version was not made public until Sept. 28.

   Article 100 in the amended statutes state that the chairman of the National Defense Commission (NDC), a post held by Kim Jong-il since 1993, is the country's "supreme leader," an apparent bid to lend greater authority to Kim. While inarguably the most powerful figure in the reclusive socialist nation, the revisions mark the first official acknowledgement of this in the state's constitution.

   To clear away any doubt over Kim's paramount position, the newly revised constitution also places his military-first politics on the same level as the nation's founding ideology of "Juche," or self-reliance.

   Article 3 stipulates that North Korea "is guided in its activities by the Songun ideology and the Juche idea, a world outlook centered on people and a revolutionary ideology for achieving the independence of the masses." No references to Songun were made in the previous draft.

   New articles on the role and authority of the NDC chairman were also added to the constitution, which was revised in April amid reports that Kim's health was deteriorating and that he was preparing for a power transfer to his youngest son, Jong-un.

   Another revision states the chairman of the NDC "oversees all state affairs, appoints and dismisses major figures in the military sector, and also ratifies or abolishes important treaties with foreign nations." Article 103 stipulates the NDC chairman also maintains the right to issue special pardons and declare state emergencies.

   Experts say this year's amendments solidify Kim's authority over national affairs, expanding them from the previous constitution that stipulated the chairman's authority only over military and defense affairs.

   The amended constitution also stipulates that the tenure of the NDC chairman coincides with the term of the SPA, although Kim has been consistently re-elected to the post since he was first appointed. Members of the North's unicameral legislature are elected to five-year terms, with the latest election having taken place earlier this year.

   The 1998 draft of the constitution stated that "Socialism and Communism are built by the creative labor of the working masses." The new constitution drops the use of the term communism while retaining the term "socialism." While South Korean officials said they were still analyzing the changes, a North Korean official explained the revisions were based on Kim Jong-il's will to bolster socialism in his nation.

   The official was quoted as telling South Korean reporters on Sept. 28 that under Kim's orders the North no longer promotes communism. The leader said recently that he will "work on socialism in earnest," while characterizing communism as "hard to fulfill," the unidentified official told South Korean pool reporters at the North's Mt. Kumgang resort, where reunions were being held of families separated since the 1950-53 Korean War. "Communism is impossible to hold onto," Kim was quoted by the official as saying. "But I can properly do socialism."

   When asked to elaborate, the official explained, "Communism is meant to have a one-class society which does not distinguish the class that exploits from the one that is exploited. But it is hard for the system to exist as long as American imperialism persists."

   For the first time, the revised constitution also stipulates that the country promotes human rights. It states that the regime "respects and protects" the human rights of its citizens, a claim experts say reflects a change in Pyongyang's tactic in dealing with the international community's unrelenting condemnation of its human rights abuses.

   "The State respects and protects the human rights of the workers, peasants and working intellectuals who have been freed from exploitation and oppression and have become masters of the State and society," according to Article 8 of the constitution. The earlier vision only stated that the North "defends and protects" the peoples' "interests."

   Pundits here said North Korea seems to be taking a preemptive step to counter the world's criticism of its human rights record. "North Korea has been largely on the defensive so far. Now, it appears to be attempting to show to the world that it is trying to address the human rights issue in a preemptive manner," Kim Yong-hyun, professor of North Korea studies at Dongguk University in Seoul, said.

   North Korean officials are well aware that the issue will be raised formally in the course of negotiating with the U.S. on ending its nuclear program and normalizing bilateral relations, he added.

   Last week, the Obama administration named Robert King, a former aide to the late Rep. Tom Lantos (D-California), as its special envoy for North Korean human rights. U.S. Democrats have traditionally demanded that Washington include Pyongyang's human rights issue in the denuclearization negotiations.

   "In a longer term, the new constitution, although it may be nominal, may signal the possibility that North Korea will make gradual efforts to improve its human rights situation," Kim added.

   Regarding the role of the NDC, Prof. Kim said, "This part is the core of the new constitution, which is intended to stabilize and institutionalize the power of the NDC." He said, however, that at the same time the North is "telling the U.S. and other countries that Kim Jong-il is the very person who is authorized to be your dialogue partner."