The 13th Supreme People’s Assembly of the DPRK – North Korea’s legislature – held its first session in Pyongyang on Tuesday, state media reported. Kim Jong Un presided over the session. The legislature elected members for positions within the SPA and SPA Presidium, elected members of the National Defense Commission (NDC), and appointed cabinet members. It is traditional for many new elections and appointments to take place during the first session of a newly elected SPA.
‘The new SPA presents the biggest opportunity yet for Kim to rotate positions in favor of people closer to him than to his father’
The SPA is, in reality, a rubber-stamp legislature and merely approves the laws and legislation put forth by regime leadership and the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea. The decisions formalized by the SPA on Tuesday were likely made at the meeting of the Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee earlier this week. Nevertheless, the changes approved by the SPA are real and many figures in the regime leadership are either rising or falling in power and influence. The new SPA presents the biggest opportunity yet for Kim to rotate positions in favor of people closer to him than to his father.
ELECTION OF THE NDC
As expected, Kim retained his position as first chairman of the NDC, which creates military policy and effectively runs most of the country. Ri Yong Mu and O Kuk Ryol also retained their positions as vice-chairmen. But Kim Yong Chun lost his vice-chairman position to Choe Ryong Hae.
Choe’s rise within the NDC – of which he was already a member – may come as a surprise to some, considering his apparent exclusion from some important meetings late last year. But Choe has consistently appeared alongside Kim more often than not and holds several top positions, including director the Korean People’s Army General Political Bureau and vice-chairman of the Party Central Military Commission.
Minister of the People’s Armed Forces Jang Jong Nam, as well as Jo Chun Ryong were newly elected to the NDC while Choe Pu Il, Kim Won Hong and Pak To Chun retained their membership. But Ju Kyu Chang, Kim Kyok Sik and Paek Se Bong seem to have lost their positions in the NDC. Kim Kyok Sik has fallen from favor in recent years, appearing only once with Kim Jong Un since his removal as Chief of the KPA General Staff in August, while Ju hasn’t been seen with Kim since October.
The SPA also elected members for various positions within the legislature. Choe Thae Bok was reelected as chairman of SPA while An Tong Chun – a former minister of culture – and Ri Hye Jong replaced Hong Song Ok and Kim Wan Su as vice-chairpersons of the SPA. The removal of Kim Wan Su – who is director of the party secretariat and chairman of the Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland – from a top SPA position is surprising, though he does retain his membership in the SPA Presidium. Kim Phyong Hae, director of the WPK Cadre Department, was elected chairman of the SPA Deputy Credentials Committee.
The top positions of the Presidium of the SPA remain unchanged, though there were many changes in membership. The SPA Presidium is the smaller, more senior body within the SPA which holds more frequent sessions and passes legislation on behalf of the SPA in most cases. New members of the Presidium include Jon Kyong Nam, Kang Myong Chol, Kang Su Rin, Kim Jong Sun, Kim Wan Su and Thae Jong Su. Hyon Sang Ju, Jon Yong Nam, Kim Yang Gon, Ri Myong Gil and Ryu Mi Yong retained membership while Hong In Bom, Ro Song Sil and Sim Sang Jin were removed.
CABINET, OTHER POSITIONS CHANGE
‘Unlike Jang and some of his other associates, Ri Su Yong clearly survived the purge and has only moved further up the ladder in the regime’
Despite speculation that DPRK Premier Pak Pong Ju would be removed, he was once again reelected to the position, which he held from 2003 to 2007 and again since 2013. But while most cabinet-level postings are unchanged, there were some new appointments.
The most significant change in the cabinet was the replacement of Pak Ui Chun as Foreign Minister by Ri Su Yong. Pak held the position since 2007. Ri has decades of experience in the Foreign Ministry, having served as Foreign Ministry Protocol Chief, Ambassador to Switzerland, Liechtenstein and the Netherlands, minister at the DPRK’s Geneva, Switzerland mission to the UN, and chairman of the Joint Venture Investment Committee. This was also perhaps the most surprising position change made by the SPA. Ri was reportedly executed in December as an associate of Jang Song Thaek. But his execution was already proven to be just rumor a month ago, when his name was on the list of delegates elected to the 13th SPA.
Ri had considerable involvement in joint ventures which allowed North Korea better access to material and foreign currency from overseas. This is likely the reason he was believed to be such a close associate of Jang. But unlike Jang and some of his other associates, Ri clearly survived the purge and has only moved further up the ladder in the regime. It is unknown what will become of Pak as he hasn’t been appointed to any new positions.
Other position changes include:
Mun Myong Hak replaced Ri Yong Yong as Minister of Coal Industry
Kim Yong Gwang replaced Han Hyo Yon as Minister of Metallurgical Industry
Ri Hak Chol replaced Kang Min Chol as Minister of Mining Industry
Han Ryong Guk replaced Kim Kwang Yong as Minister of Forestry
Kim Kyong Nam replaced Ri Song Ho as Minister of Commerce
Pak Chun Nam replaced Hong Kwang Sun as Minister of Culture
Kim Chon Gyun replaced Paek Ryong Chon as President of the Central Bank
Pak Myong Chol replaced Kim Pyong Ryul as President of the Supreme Court (not a cabinet position)
Picture: Rodong Sinmun
The 13th Supreme People’s Assembly of the DPRK – North Korea’s legislature - held its first session in Pyongyang on Tuesday, state media reported. Kim Jong Un presided over the session. The legislature elected members for positions within the SPA and SPA Presidium, elected members of the National Defense Commission (NDC), and appointed cabinet members. It is traditional for many new elections and appointments to take place during the first session of a newly elected SPA.
'The new SPA presents the biggest opportunity yet for Kim to rotate positions in favor of people closer to him than to his father'
John G. Grisafi is an analyst and Korean linguist from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Having previously worked as an analyst for the United States Army in South Korea and studied Korean at the Defense Language Institute, he is now majoring in East Asian Languages & Civilization and History at the University of Pennsylvania.