The Korea Herald


N. Korea’s rubber stamp parliament convenes in leader‘s absence

By Jung Min-kyung

Published : April 12, 2018 - 16:15

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North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly convened Wednesday, the country’s state media reported Thursday, with leader Kim Jong-un apparently absent from the proceedings.

The parliamentary meeting comes head of an inter-Korean summit scheduled for April 27 and a planned meeting between Kim and US President Donald Trump in late May or early June. 

North Korea`s parliament holds a key session on Wednesday, without its leader Kim Jong-un in attendance. (KCNA-Yonhap) North Korea`s parliament holds a key session on Wednesday, without its leader Kim Jong-un in attendance. (KCNA-Yonhap)

The SPA, a rubber-stamp parliament, holds a plenary session once or twice a year to tackle a slew of domestic issues such as budgets and governing structures. The members the Workers’ Party form the vast majority of the assembly.

Despite usual patterns, Kim’s recent shift in position on denuclearization talks has prompted speculations a special diplomatic message could be unveiled through the assembly. However, none was released.

Analysts are saying the North may have intentionally omitted diplomatic issues from the session’s agenda to display an unwavering attitude amid a flurry of diplomacy recently centered on the reclusive nation.

The assembly’s main focus this year was on economic issues, highlighting the efficient use of last year’s state budget, according to the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency. Of last year’s budget, 15.8 percent was used in bolstering the North’s military while 47.7 percent was devoted to boost the economy. It did not offer an amount for last year’s budget.

It plans to spend 15.9 percent of this year’s budget on national defense, with the state budget spending expected to grow 5.1 percent this year from 2017, though again no total was given.

“North Korea’s external affairs, which was much anticipated (by the international community to be on the agenda), was not discussed to shed light on its view that they have agreed to come to the table, not by the international community’s pressure campaign, but of their own volition,” said Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University.

“North Korea appears to be taking a prudent stance in handling the current situation while showing it is not giving in to international pressure,” he added.

A personnel reshuffle was another key agenda item of the assembly, with the North’s dismissal of Hwang Pyong-so, a former director of the general political bureau of North Korea’s armed forces, from the post of vice chairman of the States Affairs Commission. Kim Jong-gak, Hwang‘s successor, became a member of the SAC instead of the vice chairman.

The North also reduced the number of SAC vice chairmen to two -- Premier Pak Pong-ju and Choe Ryong-hae, a vice chairman of the Workers’ Party’s central committee.

Experts are viewing it as an effort to reduce excessive clout of the military in order for the government to operate on a more party-centric system. It is also viewed as part of Kim’s plans to strengthen his grip on the regime.

Kim Won-hong, who was sacked from the post of state security minister, was also stripped of his post as a member of the SAC. The post was filled by Jong Kyong-thaek.

Pak Kwang-ho, director at the Workers’ Party’s propaganda and agitation department, was promoted as a member of the SAC, replacing Kim Ki-nam.

Denuclearization the Korean Peninsula is expected to top the agenda at the inter-Korean summit and the Kim-Trump meeting.

But a gap exists between the US and the North position on the issue of denuclearization -- Pyongyang has suggested a need for phased and synchronous measures for denuclearization, while Washington is calling for the North to dismantle its nuclear program in a complete, irreversible and verifiable manner.

Earlier this month, Kim talked about prospects for dialogue with the United States and inter-Korean ties at the meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea’s political bureau, according to the KCNA, which marked his first official mention of the planned summits. The details of his vision were not elaborated.

Regarding Kim’s absence, Seoul’s Ministry of Unification noted that the young leader’s attendance is not mandatory, and the meeting was held at a similar level to last year’s. An empty seat presumed to be for the leader could be seen in photographs distributed by North Korea’s central news agency, though there was no mention of his attendance in the state media reports

By Jung Min-kyung (