N. Korea changes constitution to make Kim Jong-un official head of state

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un speaks at an enlarged meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea in Pyongyang on April 9, 2019, in this photo released by the Korean Central News Agency the next day. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap). Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

SEOUL, Jul 12, 2019, Yonhap. North Korea has revised its constitution to stipulate that leader Kim Jong-un is the official head of state, according to a state media outlet, reported the Yonhap.

The new constitution, revised in April’s Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) session, states that the chairman of the State Affairs Commission (SAC), the communist state’s highest seat of power, serves as its supreme leader that “represents the country,” according to Naenara, a North Korean propaganda website.

Kim rules the North as chairman of the State Affairs Commission.

The website unveiled the full text of the new constitution.

The previous constitution only stated that the chairman of the SAC served as supreme leader. Under the previous version, it was the president of the Presidium of the SPA who represents the country as nominal head of state.

The new constitution still states that the president of the Presidium of the SPA represents the country and receives credentials from foreign envoys. That appears to mean that the post represents the country only symbolically when receiving diplomatic credentials.

Speculation has arisen that the North could push for revision of its constitution to make Kim the official head of state after the leader was not on the ballot in nationwide elections in March to select new deputies to the 14th SPA.

It was the first time that a North Korean leader’s name did not appear on the ballot in the elections. Nor was his name among the newly-elected deputies.

Kim was re-elected as chairman of the SAC in April. Pyongyang’s state media earlier addressed him by using a new title of “supreme representative,” spawning speculation over a possible constitutional revision to expand Kim’s power.

In April, Choe Ryong-hae, considered one of the closest aides to the leader, was elected to replace Kim Yong-nam as the president of the Presidium of the SPA.

Meanwhile, the new constitution deleted the “songun,” or military-first policy, that late leader Kim Jong-il, father of the current leader, advocated from its preamble.

Since taking office in late 2011 since his father’s death, Kim Jong-un has shifted his emphasis to the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea and government agencies from the military.

The new Constitution excluded “national defense construction projects” in defining the duty and obligation of Cabinet members, a change experts see as another indication that Kim is seeking to break with his late father’s songun policy.

The new constitution also reflected the current leader’s focus on economic development through science and technology as he repeatedly emphasized since taking power.

“Science technology power is the nation’s most important strategic resource,” it stated, calling for increasing the share of science and technology in economic activities.

The new constitution stated that North Korea will “expand and develop external economic relations,” replacing the previous phrase of “develop external trade.”

Observers see the change as an indication that Pyongyang will place more emphasis on improving ties with other countries to raise its creditability in boosting trade and attracting investment in the face of challenges from global sanctions.

By Koh Byung-joon

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