FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during a conference of cell secretaries of the ruling Workers' Party in Pyongyang, in this undated photo released on April 9, 2021 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA/via REUTERS.
By Sangmi Cha
June 1, 2021
SEOUL (Reuters) -North Korea's ruling party has amended its rules to create a de facto second-in-command under leader Kim Jong Un as he looks to revamp domestic politics, South Korea's Yonhap news agency said on Tuesday.
Citing an unidentified source familiar with North Korea, the agency said the holder of the new post of "first secretary" would chair meetings on behalf of Kim Jong Un.
Kim cemented his power at a congress of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) in January, when he was elected its general secretary, taking a title last held by his late father, Kim Jong Il.
Now Kim wants a greater role in government for the party, as compared to the more-military centred administration of his father, the news agency added.
"The term 'military-first politics', a major keyword in the Kim Jong Il era, is known to have been scrapped from the preface of the party by-laws," it said.
In a statement, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said new
party by-laws were publicized in North Korea after the January meeting. But the ministry responsible for relations with the neighbouring nation said it could not disclose details.
Kim Jong Un himself used the "first secretary" designation from 2012 to 2016.
The new post, the most senior of the party's seven secretaries, is likely to have been taken by Jo Yong Won, who is a member of the politburo’s five-strong presidium, Yonhap said.
Jo, considered one of Kim's closest aides, was seen by analysts at the time of the January meeting to hold the government's No. 3 position, after Kim and Choe Ryong Hae, chairman of the Standing Committee of the Supreme People's Assembly.
"This seems to be the broader trend of North Korea delegating and redistributing some of Kim Jong Un's duties to others, not necessarily his powers, and streamlining the party leadership structure," said Rachel Minyoung Lee, a fellow with 38 North, a U.S.-based programme that monitors North Korea.
The change is likely to affect Kim's public profile and how leadership guidance is provided to the public, she said, adding that Jo had already taken a role in leading party sessions.
Kim Jong Un has wielded almost absolute power in North Korea's dynastic system since taking over after his father's death in 2011.
Last year a South Korean lawmaker said the country's intelligence agency believed that Kim's sister, Kim Yo Jong, was serving as his "de facto second-in-command" but had not necessarily been designated his successor.