North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

12th SPA to convene 4th session on 7 April

The 2nd session of the 12th Supreme People's Assembly in April 2010 (KCNA)

On 18 March 2011 KCNA reported that it was publicized on 15 March that “the fourth session of the 12th SPA [Supreme People’s Assembly] of the DPRK will be held in Pyongyang on 7 April [Thursday].”  With the exception of some events (KCI birthday celebrations, various central report meetings) the 12th SPA’s fourth plenary meeting will be the central leadership’s first significant public event in 2011.  It will be the first SPA meeting since the 3rd Party Conference on 28 September 2010.

Some accounts claim that Kim Cho’ng-u’n serves as a deputy [delegate] to the SPA under an alias, while other sources contend that KCU has not yet joined the SPA.  It remains to be seen if Cho’ng-u’n will attend the 7 April meeting.  Despite KCU’s SPA status, Pyongyang watchers anticipate the possibility that the upcoming convocation shall represent another phase in the Kim Cho’ng-u’n hereditary succession campaign, conveyed in this AFP story:

Pyongyang usually convenes its rubber-stamp parliament twice a year for a day or two to pass government budgets and approve personnel changes.

Attention is focused on whether Kim Jong-Un, leader Kim Jong-Il’s youngest son and heir apparent, will be promoted to become one of the vice-chairmen of the powerful National Defence Commission (NDC).

Jong-Un, believed aged 27, was made a four-star general in September and appointed as one of vice-chairmen of the party Central Military Commission, which oversees the 1.2 million-strong armed forces headed by his father.

“It is interesting to see whether the son becomes an NDC vice-chairman or even the first NDC vice-chairman,” Professor Yang Moo-Jin, of the University of North Korean Studies, told AFP.

“It will give us an indication as to where the North stands in its efforts to endow him with power and authority needed to become an eventual successor,” Yang said.

If Jong-Un emerges as the NDC first vice-chairman, he is likely to be given the same title in the Central Military Commission sooner or later, Yang added.

“This will pave the way for the son’s eventual ascension to the throne,” he said.

North Korea’s 2009 constitution says the NDC chairman, currently the senior Kim, is “the highest leader” of the communist state.

The need for new appointments has become acute after the death of the first NDC vice-chairman, Vice Marshall Jo Myong-Rok, in November last year, and the sudden dismissal of the North’s police chief, Ju Sang Song.

Even if Cho’ng-u’n is not appointed to the NDC, it will be interesting to see where (on the rostrum or in the gallery) and with whom he is seated—in the event that he attends.  This SPA session could ceremoniously formalize a position he already holds.  Chosun Ilbo reported on 17 February 2011 that Cho’ng-u’n was appointed vice chairman of the National Defense Commission [NDC] at a 10 February 2011 meeting of officials of the KPA and other security organizations:

According to a high-level North Korea source, Kim junior was appointed vice chairman of the commission at the April 25 Cultural Hall in Pyongyang on Feb. 10 in front of thousands of senior officers of the People’s Army, the Internal Security Forces, the State Security Department, and the Ministry of Public Security.

His appointment in principle needs to be ratified by the Supreme People’s Assembly, which meets in April, but that is a rubberstamp body and ratification a mere formality.

Kim Jong-il became chairman of the commission in 1993, a sign that he was taking power from his father. He was made chairman for the fourth time in 2009. Currently, there are four other chairmen — members of the old guard O Kuk-ryol, Jang Song-taek, Ri Yong-mu and Kim Yong-chun.

The meeting alleged by Chosun Ilbo’s source sounds similar to a meeting of the KPA General Political Department which occurred on 24 December 1991, the day following KCI’s appointment as KPA Supreme Commander.  At that meeting, members of the GPD and other KPA commanders swore loyalty oaths to KCI.  Another alleged meeting of KPA and security agency managers occurred in early 2009 and resulted in the appointment of Yi Yo’ng-ho as chief of the KPA General Staff (replacing Kim Kyo’k-sik who assumed command of the KPA Western Command area) and the appointment of Gen. O Kuk-yo’l as NDC Vice Chairman.  If Kim Cho’ng-u’n were appointed to the NDC on 7 April, it would occur exactly 18 years after KCI’s election to NDC Chairman at the 5th session of the 9th SPA, held during 7 to 9 April 1993.

However, pronouncements and prognostications on KCU’s advancement deal with his appointment as NDC Vice Chairman.  This introduces another ceremonial hurdle KCU may have to leap on the road to the Mansudae Assembly Hall, in the form of a plenary meeting of the Party Central Committee [CC KWP].  In the DPRK’s relatively recent past, some SPA sessions were preceded by a CC KWP plenary meeting.  The 18th plenum of the 6th term Central Committee occurred one day prior to Kim Cho’ng-il’s election to NDC Vice Chairman at the opening session of the 9th SPA on 24 May 1990.  The 5th plenum of the 6th term CC occurred 3 April 1982 prior to the opening session of the 7th SPA on 5 April 1982; this was the first SPA session at which Kim Cho’ng-il officially served as an SPA deputy.

With the party organization relatively revived after September 2010, a CC KWP plenary meeting is a prospective amuse-bouche to complement the SPA session

According to the DPRK media, the decision to hold the 12th SPA’s 4th session was “made public Tuesday [March 15]” but not conveyed by KCNA until 18 March.  Instead, on 16 March KCNA reported that the NDC “dismissed” Gen. Chu Sang-song as Minister of People’s Security and, presumably, as a member of the NDC.  As indicated in the AFP story, filling Chu’s vacancy as the head of the DPRK’s domestic law enforcement agency is the most likely personnel-related agenda item on 7 April.

Chu is not the first NDC-er publicly removed prior to the announcement of a session of the 12th SPA.  On 13 May 2010, the DPRK media reported that Kim Il-ch’o’l (KPA VMar., former Minister of the People’s Armed Forces) was publicly retired by the NDC.  On 18 May 2010 the 3rd session of the 12th SPA was announced.  Interestingly, Kim Cho’ng-il’s final reported public appearance prior to the 3rd session of the 12th SPA on 7 June 2010, prominently featured Chu Sang-song conducting KCI through the Taedonggang Combined Cooperative Fruit Farm.

During the 3rd session of the 12th SPA, Chang So’ng-t’aek was elected NDC Vice Chairman and Choe Yong-nim appointed Premier, among other senior government appointments.  Less than one week prior to the convocation of the 12th SPA’s 3rd session, the head of the KPA’s artillery command and one of Kim Cho’ng-il’s closest aides died within 36 hours of one another.

Chu’s removal, taken with these other incidents preceding 12th SPA sessions, may indicate the methods with which the regime is euthanizing the political lives of senior cadres.  Several reports in ROK media have claimed that in building patronage among younger cadres, Kim Cho’ng-u’n and his supporters are sidelining those in the 2nd generation with a combination of force and condescension.  Some Pyongyang watchers have pointed to Gen. O Kuk-yo’l and Chang So’ng-t’aek–and those within their political patronage–as targets.  JoongAng Ilbo recently alleged that Cho’ng-u’n’s supporters were retiring cadres over 60 and altering their party membership status to “honorary.”


An affiliate of 38 North