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Kim Jong-un gains more power

Constitution changed to elevate State Affairs Commission head
Aug 31,2019
North Korea’s rubber stamp legislature convened for the second time this year on Thursday to elevate the legal status of its leader Kim Jong-un, ensuring his dominance over all state affairs, according to state media on Friday.

In an address to the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA), Choe Ryong-hae, the regime’s No. 2 figure and president of the SPA Presidium, announced the constitution of North Korea would be amended in order to “provide a firm legal guarantee for stepping up the building of a powerful socialist nation more dynamically under the monolithic guidance of Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un.”

This chairman of the State Affairs Commission (SAC) - the top post Kim currently occupies - was made leader of the state, the Workers’ Party and the armed forces “in accordance with the unanimous will and desire of all the [North] Korean people, both in name and reality,” Choe said, according to the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

Choe added that the SAC chairman would be formally elected by the SPA but would not serve in the legislature - formalizing Kim’s status as that of an executive separate from legislature.

In terms of powers, the SAC chairman’s authority was also expanded to give him the right to promulgate SPA ordinances, major SAC decrees and appoint or recall the North’s diplomatic envoys to foreign countries.

While Kim’s title as head of the SAC already made him the supreme leader of the country, as per Article 100 of the country’s constitution, the country’s official head of state in matters of foreign affairs was Choe, the president of the SPA Presidium.

This created protocol problems for North Korean officials when dealing with foreign heads of state.

This change gives Kim comparable official rank in meetings with foreign leaders like U.S. President Donald Trump or Chinese President Xi Jinping.

In broader terms, the amendment dovetails with Kim expressed desire to make North Korea a “normal country,” with governing conventions more in line with the outside world in an attempt to end its diplomatic isolation.

It is rare for North Korea to hold a SPA plenary session twice in a single year. At the first session in April, Kim was re-elected as SAC chairman and bestowed with the title “supreme representative of the [North] Korean people.”

Kim delivered a speech about holding a third summit with Trump if the United States came to the table with the “right attitude and mutually acceptable terms” - a barbed reference to the failed talks in Hanoi, Vietnam, in February.

Yet this latest session produced no public statement from Kim on foreign policy, at least according to state media reports, contrary to expectations that he would send a message to Washington on resuming denuclearization negotiations agreed upon with Trump at their surprise meeting in Panmunjom on June 30.

Instead, the state-run Rodong Sinmun on Friday published several pieces praising Kim for advancing the country’s military with new weapons tested in a string of launches throughout late July and August.

Both the constitutional revision, which also may be an attempt by Kim to restore any prestige damaged by the Hanoi summit, and the militaristic stance taken by the regime in recent weeks may signal Pyongyang’s desire to project stability and strength before restarting talks with the United States.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]