North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

SPA to Meet Again

Mansudae Assembly Hall

Another session of the 12th Supreme People’s Assembly will be held in early June.  Reuters reports (thank you, Joe):

North Korea has called for a rare second session of its parliament on June 7, its state media said on Tuesday, two months since the previous meeting when it changed the constitution to boost leader Kim Jong-il’s powers.A brief dispatch by the official KCNA news agency did not say what was on the agenda for the new session of the rubber stamp Supreme People’s Assembly.

Kim did not attend the last session on April 9, which amended the constitution to strengthen the powers of the National Defense Commission, the focus of leadership in the reclusive state which he heads as chairman.

KCNA makes the official announcement:

The Presidium of the DPRK Supreme People’s Assembly on Monday issued a decision on convening the SPA.
According to the decision, the 3rd Session of the 12th SPA will be convened in Pyongyang on June 7.

Yonhap’s Sam Kim interviews several ROK-based Pyongyang watchers who offer different reasons for the country calling its unicameral legislature to order:

The last session, which was skipped by Kim, convened on April 9.

The 687-member assembly has not opened twice in one year since 2003. Even then, each session was held by a separate group of representatives, a Unification Ministry official here said.

“The (South Korean) government will closely monitor the upcoming session,” the official said, asking not to be named.

“This should be seen as an extraordinary session at an extraordinary time,” Paik Hak-soon, a North Korea researcher at the Sejong Institute, said. “Kim will likely be present to oversee it.”

Paik was referring to heightened tensions between the divided Koreas since a South Korean warship sank on March 26 near the western sea border with North Korea.

A ranking South Korean defense official said Tuesday investigators have found evidence that points to a North Korean attack on the 1,200-ton Cheonan. Forty-six of the ship’s crew members died when the ship split in half.

“The parliament will also declare its support for economic cooperation projects Kim has brought from China,” Paik said, adding that North Korea fears sanctions on it will tighten if Seoul and Washington conclude Pyongyang is to blame for the ship sinking.

Baek Seung-joo, a researcher from the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, said Kim is likely to call for support for a power succession that has been secretly underway in Pyongyang.

“This will be much focused on domestic politics,” Baek said, discounting the significance of the meeting between the North Korean and Chinese leaders.

“We may see clear moves that indicate Kim’s third son is rising up the ladder,” he said, adding the ship sinking is unlikely to be a major topic as Pyongyang has already denied any link to the incident.

It seems the SPA’s first matter of business is to fill the vacancy on the National Defence Commission, left by the recently compelled retirement of VMAR Kim Il Chol.  Could KJI use this SPA session to continue to depopulate the gerontocracy that sits atop the country’s power organs, including the National Defense Commission?  Might Paektu’s “hot winds” whistle for “revolutionary upsurge” of the “gun-barrel youth?” Daily NK‘s Chris Green tabulates additional speculation:

The SPA is supposed to deal with electing major officials in addition to approving laws and deciding budgets, so one guess is that the extraordinary session may be related National Defense Commission personnel. Especially, there is the possibility that the succession system may go public with the appearance of Kim Jong Eun on the National Defense Commission.

With the removal of First Vice-Director of the People’s Armed Forces Kim Il Cheol earlier this month, there is certainly room for movement in the ageing North Korean leadership structure.

Korean National Defense University’s Professor Kim Yeon Su agreed, saying in a telephone interview with The Daily NK, “The SPA has the authority to reorganize the National Defense Commission, so there may well be a decision on the composition of the Commission.”

Additionally, the range of difficult issues facing North Korea is likely to get broader once the findings of the Cheonan sinking investigation team are announced, possibly as soon as the end of this week. Thereafter, the North may be planning to use the SPA meeting to move toward a harder policy position.

According to Professor Kim, “Given predictions that sanctions against North Korea will be strengthened, the North may want to emphasize and reinforce the Military-first Policy via the SPA meeting.”

Meanwhile, Kim Jong-il has spent this week tooling around Ryanggang Province.  Interesting note: KJI is currently traveling through the Pochonbo neighborhood, the KIS-led raid whose 73rd anniversary will be commemorated on 4 June, three days prior to the next SPA session:

He first looked round the statue of President Kim Il Sung on the shore of Lake Samji and the Samjiyon Grand Monument and other places to learn in detail about the management of battle sites and how education is conducted through them.

The area of Samjiyon is a holy place of revolution where sites associated with revolutionary activities of Kim Il Sung in the period of the anti-Japanese armed struggle are concentrated and an important centre for the education in the revolutionary traditions, he said, adding that to spruce those battle sites up well is part of the sacred work for firmly preserving and carrying forward and developing the revolutionary traditions, the treasure of eternal value for the revolution.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il inspects the site of a power station set to be built in Paekam County in Ryanggang Province. (Photo: KCTBS & Yonhap)

An affiliate of 38 North