The first meeting of the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly, a day after Marshall Kim Jong Un chaired a meeting of the Central Committee of the Worker’s Party of Korea, led to some surprise changes at the highest levels of government. It is unclear yet what reasons led to the decision to replace Pak Pong Ju as Premier of the Cabinet and Kim Yong Nam as President of the Presidium of the SPA however there are a few potential explanations.
Kim Yong Nam is now 91 and has served as President of the Presidium for just over 2 decades since 1998. The decision to have him replaced could well have been one of practicality. The current Supreme People’s Assembly will sit until 2024 when Kim Yong Nam would be 96, if even still capable of holding office. His replacement as nominal head of state is Choe Ryong Hae. Choe has been a semi-permanent figure in government since the 1980s holding a significant position in the Kimilsungist-Kimjongilist Youth League (or Kim Il Sung Socialist Youth League as it was back then). During the 1990s he became a full member of the WPK Central Committee and a permanent member of the SPA Presidium. He fell from grace in the late 90s and reportedly faced ‘reform through labour’ after which he took up various non-vital government positions until the death of General Kim Jong Il. During the tenure of Marshall Kim Jong Un, Choe has reportedly been promoted and demoted numerous times for unknown reasons, however, always seen as a loyalist to Kim Jong Un. At the time of writing he is the director of the Organisation and Guidance Dept, VC of the State Affairs Commission and President of the Presidium of the SPA making him one of the most powerful political figures in the country… ever.
Marshall Kim Jong Un spoke to the Central Committee of the WPK the day before convening the Supreme People’s Assembly
Little is known about Kim Jae Ryong, the successor to Pak Pong Ju as the Premier of the cabinet. He became a member of the WPK Political Bureau and the Central Military Commission on the 12th of April as well as assuming the position of Premier. Pak Pong Ju has not fallen from grace in the eyes of the government; whilst losing the premiership he was granted the position of Vice Chairman of the WPK. This rules out any speculation that the government is moving away from making economic reforms, which were championed by Pak. Kim Jae Ryong may be, like Choe Ryong Hae, another loyalist which Kim Jong Un sees as a useful asset to have in the upper echelons of power. These changes mark, for the first time under Kim Jong Un, the first time that political power is wielded almost entirely by the ‘new guard’ as opposed to figures who held significant positions during General Kim Jong Il’s tenure. What results from this shakeup, and whether or not the new Premier will follow the course of his predecessor as push for economic reform, remains to be seen.