09.06.2021 – 09:07
Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s Supreme Leader and holder of a large group of military and party titles, is learning the value of delegating a workload.
In recent months, Kim has signed the creation of a number of senior positions for trusted figures, while the state media has begun to portray meetings of the ruling Workers’ Party as a matter of co-operation, where decisions are made as a group.
In January, Kim, who took power after the death of his father Kim Jong-il in 2011, chaired a rare Labor Party congress that reportedly voted to change party rules to create a de facto second in command.
The “first secretary” would be authorized to chair party meetings on Kim’s behalf, according to unnamed South Korean sources.
There are no signs that Kim is easing his power, analysts say, with the dynastic leader exercising something similar to absolute power in the hyper-authoritarian North. Among his many great titles, Kim goes from General Secretary of the Workers’ Party, Chairman of the Central Military Commission and President of State Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), referring to the official name of the North.
But recent developments within Kim’s secret regime may suggest a desire on behalf of the supreme ruler to delegate more day-to-day tasks, freeing up his time for more pressing strategic policy concerns.
“For Kim Jong personally it means he has less office work reading reports, holding small group meetings, having to sign his name or verbally authorizing action articles he needs complement, ”said Michael Madden, director and founder of Watch Leadership.
“He should only interact with these individuals, along with Kim Yo-jong,” Madden said, referring to Kim’s younger sister, who has also emerged as an influential figure within the regime.
“Kim Jong-un has always been transparent that he relies on expert advice and relies on the experiences and judgments of DPRK officials who have more knowledge or career experience than he does.”
North Korea’s confused international image could be another factor in shifting Kim toward a more delegated leadership style. Pyongyang has faced decades of isolation on the international stage for human rights and illegal nuclear and missile programs. In 2014, a UN Commission of Inquiry concluded that the Kim regime was responsible for human rights violations including brief executions, slavery, torture, rape, and forced abortions.
Pyongyang has been hit with multiple rounds of UN and US sanctions for its weapons development efforts, including six nuclear tests since 2006. Although surrounded by a personality cult similar to that of his father and grandfather , Kim has adopted an unusually accessible public figure compared to his predecessors.
In 2018, Kim became the first North Korean leader to meet a sitting U.S. president when he held denuclearization talks in Singapore with Donald Trump.
Rachel Lee, a non-resident associate with the 38 North program at Stimson Center, said Kim may want to move away from his image as Supreme Leader and “institutionalize” his leadership in bodies such as the ruling party.
“Call North Korea’s bid to become a ‘normal country,’ if you will,” said Lee, who previously worked as a North Korean analyst for the United States.
“The North Korean media’s attempts to present party meetings as a collective decision-making platform over the past year fit into this narrative.”
The creation of Kim’s first secretary post follows his promotion last year to high-profile military officials Ri Pyong-chol and Pak Jong-chon in positions no. 2 in the armed forces and changing the statute of the Workers’ Party to allow ranking officials to chair meetings with “authorization from the party chairman”.
Kim Yo-jong has also gained growing fame, with her practical role in managing relations with South Korea prompting speculation that she may be an expected leader.
Madden said the first secretary would deal with the daily routine reports of heads of government organizations and make some “micro-decisions” on Kim’s behalf.
“All political leaders, whether in parliamentary democracies or authoritarian regimes, give their subordinates trust and assist certain functions and authorities,” Madden said.
“In the UK, the prime minister has a private parliamentary secretary, US senators have administrative assistants and legislative assistants, the president has White House office staff.
When we are evaluating this first position of secretary, we can look at it in the context of other political cultures and systems of government. ”
However, few observers expect Kim to be less uncompromising or ruthless in his efforts to consolidate his near-absolute power.
The third-generation dictator is believed to have ordered the execution of many high-ranking officials, including his uncle Jang Song-thaek, as well as the murder of his half-brother in 2017
“It is important not to confuse delegation of authority with decentralization of power when discussing the implications of reviewing party rules,” said Jung Kim, an assistant professor at the North Korean University of Studies.
“The latter shows the de-personalization of the power structure in North Korea, which means that the party is moving towards a collegial form of government like that of China, while the former means the creation of a new post that is still an agent of the Supreme Leader as the chief ”
Lim Jae-cheon, a professor of North Korean studies at Korea University, said Kim’s willingness to delegate some tasks suggested he was confident in his control of power.
“I do not think Kim Jong-un is less dictatorial or power-hungry,” Lim said.
“North Korea’s surveillance system is still working well, showing that Kim Jong-un has effective means of controlling powerful elites.”
Translated and adapted by Foreign Affairs / FH, Konica.al