Kim Jong Un changed his title from chairman to general secretary of the ruling Workers’ Party, a rank previously held by his late father and grandfather – and removed his sister from the powerful North Korean politburo.
Kim’s action during the Hermit Kingdom’s first ruling party congress since 2016 was apparently aimed at bolstering his authority amid mounting economic challenges.
During the sixth day of the meeting Sunday, the despot, who turned 37 on Friday, also vowed to build more sophisticated nuclear weapons and disclosed economic development goals amid coronavirus-related financial woes, natural disasters and US-led sanctions.
A congress statement said Kim, who already was the party’s top leader, “has gloriously realized the historic mission to complete the country’s nuclear build-up plan,” according to the official Korean Central News Agency.
“Kim’s takeover shows his confidence, that he has now officially joined the ranks of his father and grandfather,” Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, told Reuters.
“It also indicates his strategic intention to centralize the party system around him and reinforce his one-man rule,” he added.
During a 2016 party congress, Kim was named chairman and before that had led the party as first secretary — but general secretary has important symbolism in the rogue regime since it was the title held by his father, Kim Jong Il, and grandfather, Kim Il Sung.
Meanwhile, the name of his sister Kim Yo Jong was missing from a new list of the ruling Workers’ Party’s politburo, state media reported Monday, raising questions about her status after years of increasing influence, according to Reuters.
The 33-year-old, who remained a member of the Central Committee, in 2017 became only the second woman in the patriarchal nation to join the exclusive politburo after her aunt Kim Kyong Hui.
In August, South Korea’s intelligence agency said she was her brother’s “de facto second-in-command.”
Her absence from the politburo list comes days after she took the leadership podium for the first time alongside dozens of party executives as the congress began.
“It is too early to draw any conclusion about her status, as she is still a Central Committee member and there’s a possibility that she has taken up other important posts,” Lim Eul-chul, a professor of North Korean studies at Kyungnam University in Seoul, told Reuters.
Michael Madden, a North Korea leadership expert at the US-based Stimson Center, said Kim Yo Jong still enjoyed the highest degree of influence on policy.
“We have become accustomed to seeing her in a more public role, but Kim Yo Jong’s political roots and her formative career experience are behind the scenes, not sitting on a platform listening to speeches,” he told the news agency.