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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 308 (April 10, 2014)

2014/04/10 11:01

TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 2)

Choe Ryong-hae makes meteoric rise in N. Korean power shift

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Choe Ryong-hae, a top military official, has become a truly influential figure second to only North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on April 9 when the newly launched North Korean parliament elected him as new vice chairman of the communist country's most powerful body, National Defense Commission (NDC), during its first session.

The rubber-stamp Supreme People's Assembly (SPA), which was launched about a month ago, also re-elected leader Kim as chairman of the NDC as widely expected.

Choe, the director of the North Korean army's General Political Bureau, took up the mighty post that had been kept vacant since Jang Song-thaek, a powerful uncle of the North Korean leader, was executed on treason charges in December.

Choe vowed to track down and kill those who do not follow Kim's leadership during a massive rally held just days after Jang's bloody purge.

With his NDC appointment, Choe has grabbed all of the No. 2 positions of the North's three core power bodies, the Political Bureau of the Workers' Party's Central Committee and the party's Central Military Commission.

Meanwhile, the North apparently opted for stability by making no dramatic changes in a Cabinet shakeup, which the parliament rubber-stamped during its session.

The North's octogenarian titular head of state, Kim Yong-nam, retained his position as president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, with Premier Pak Pong-ju also keeping his job.

What is notable is that the North replaced its foreign minister. Ri Su-yong, a former ambassador to Switzerland, was named to replace Pak Ui-chun as the top diplomat of the communist country.

Ri is known to have served as a guardian of leader Kim and his younger sister Kim Yo-jong when they studied at an international school in Switzerland in the 1990s.

The appointment, however, is unlikely to lead to any dramatic change in the North's foreign policy toward the U.S. or its nuclear programs.

The parliamentary meeting came a month after Kim was elected to the new legislature in uncontested nationwide elections along with 686 deputies, including many who were considered close to Jang.

The election is widely seen as a formality in a country where Kim exerts absolute power he inherited upon the death of his father and long-time leader, Kim Jong-il, in 2011.

Most of those who were considered close to Jang were elected to the legislature in March, an indication that Kim is confident enough not to worry about any backlash from the execution of his uncle.

South Korea has speculated that Jang's wife, Kim Kyong-hui, may not have been elected to the country's rubber-stamp parliament, though among those elected include an individual named Kim Kyong-hui.

South Korea has cautioned that Kim Kyong-hui mentioned in the ballot may be a different person with the same name as the leader's aunt. The North's state media has not reported further on Kim Kyong-hui or the party's light industry department headed by her.

In reality, her name was not called during the April 9 parliamentary session, indicating that she has apparently stepped down from the North's power hierarchy due to her bad health.

(END)