By Josh Smith and Hyonhee Shin
SEOUL (Reuters) – Perhaps the most significant reshuffle of North Korean top officials in years by leader Kim Jong Un is serving as a warning to the ruling elite, analysts, including those he accused this week of having a “major crisis,” say. having caused coronavirus expires.
Kim convened a meeting of the ruling Politburo of the Workers’ Party of Korea on Tuesday and berated the neglect of duty by some party leaders, including failure to implement long-term measures to combat the pandemic, state media reported.
State media, often the only source of information on how the secret country works, did not address the nature of the crisis.
The gathering included the election of new members of the Politburo and a secretary to the party’s Central Committee, although it was not clear whether any dismissed officials who were not identified were reprimanded for the coronavirus errors.
The changes came 10 days after state media reported that Kim had used another large meeting to strengthen the ruling party’s discipline and appoint new members to its powerful politburo.
“The frequency of these meetings and the personnel changes are somewhat unusual,” said Michael Madden, leadership specialist for the US 38 North project, which focuses on North Korea.
Irregular political gatherings and loss of staff in an authoritarian regime like North Korea can anticipate things like a fundamental failure of the state apparatus or unsteady political transitions, he said.
“North Korea’s political culture is not at that point right now, but things like this Politburo meeting are being held to serve as a warning to North Korean elites that their behavior could jeopardize the overall cohesion of the regime, their political positions and the benefits they receive draw from it, threaten. ” high office, “said Madden.
This appeared to be the biggest shake since a 2013 purge in which Kim ordered his uncle’s execution, but his power base remains solid as many other officials were brought in, Thae Yong-ho, a former North Korean diplomat who defected to South Korea, where he now serves as a legislator, according to an analysis.
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As of last year, Kim has been waging a war on corruption and lack of discipline in the party, including rearranging top officials in a way reminiscent of his early years in office when he consolidated his power by constantly replacing, downgrading, or restoring senior military leaders, Rachel Minyoung said Lee, another specialist at 38 North.
“He publicly demonstrates that those who fail to follow directions and rules, and those who do not lead properly and achieve the desired results, will be fired or demoted, no matter how high they rank or how long they have been in it. ” her current position, ”she said.
Unusually, the state media did not reveal the officials appointed or dismissed this week, but some analysts said evidence from state television coverage suggested that Ri Pyong Chol, vice chairman of the party’s Central Military Commission and a member of the standing Politburo Committee; Pak Jong Chon, Chief of Staff of the Military and Member of the Politburo; and Choe Sang Gon, a party secretary and director of the science and education division, were among those released.
“There is a possibility of personnel changes affecting Ri Pyong Chol, Pak Jong Chon and Choe Sang Gon as Ri and Pak did not participate in the voting process and Choe’s seat was left empty,” said an official from the South Korean Unification Ministry, who is handling the relationship to the north, said on condition of anonymity.
Ri played a major role in North Korea’s ballistic missile program, and Madden said more meetings and events would need to be watched for clues as to his fate, but his discharge would be an important development.
“It would be the most significant change in the core elite in years,” he said.
Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of Kim Jong Un, was probably re-elected to the Politburo after a brief absence, said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior fellow at the South Korean Sejong Institute.
Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said Ri and Pak may have been involved in not releasing military rice reserves, while Choe was apparently fired for pursuing politics and communications regarding the pandemic.
“By revealing it at the Politburo meeting, which is an important gathering of executives, Kim appears to be sending a warning to all party officials and sending a message that he will hold them accountable if they do anything wrong,” said Yang.
(Reporting by Josh Smith and Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Robert Birsel)