North Korea's newly elected parliament met for the first time Wednesday to rubber-stamp a reshuffle of high-ranking officials, including the re-election of leader Kim Jong-un.
Military politburo chief Choe Ryong-hae was elected as vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, a slot that had been vacant since the bloody purge of former eminence grise Jang Song-taek.
In March last year, Choe was appointed as the No. 2 official in the political and military committees of the Workers Party, and his latest title has ensured his status as the second highest-ranking official after Kim.
"Choe Ryong-hae has solidified his position as the undisputed No. 2 official in the Kim Jong-un era," said Chung Sung-jang at the Sejong Institute here. At a staged rally after Jang's execution, Choe had vowed to track down and kill those who do not follow Kim's leadership.
Ri Yong-mu and O Kuk-ryol, two other vice chairmen of the National Defense Commission, retained their posts, but Kim Yong-chun was not included on the list of re-elected officials. Confidantes of former leader Kim Jong-il like former army chief Kim Kyok-sik, who supervised the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan and shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, Ju Kyu-chang, who took care of military supplies, and Paek Se-bong, who managed economic matters, were not re-elected.
But People's Armed Forces Minister Jang Jong-nam, Pak To-chun, who oversees nuclear arms development, Minister for State Security Kim Won-hong, and Choe Bu-il, minister of people's security, are newly elected members.
One newly elected official to watch is Cho Chun-ryong, who had not been a prominent figure before. A government official admitted, "We can't find any past records of Cho."
Experts said he is likely to succeed Paek Se-bong and manage economic matters. Some say he may be the husband of the North Korean leader's sister Kim Yeo-jong, who has recently come to prominence.
The Supreme People's Assembly also reshuffled the cabinet. Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun was replaced by Ri Su-yong, former ambassador to Switzerland. Ri reportedly took care of Kim and his sister when they were at boarding school in Switzerland, and although he was close to Jang, he apparently survived due to this relationship with the ruler.
Ri also managed Kim Jong-il's slush funds in secret Swiss bank accounts. He served as a diplomat for more than 20 years in Switzerland and the Netherlands and his appointment as foreign minister has prompted experts to speculate that North Korea may seek to strengthen ties with European countries.
Meanwhile, the octogenarian ceremonial head of state, Kim Yong-nam, kept his job at the head of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, and Premier Pak Pong-ju also retained his position. That suggests Kim Jong-un is trying to maintain stability amid tensions with Seoul and Washington.
Kim Yong-nam sat next to the North Korean leader and gave a speech hailing his reelection. He was first elected in 1972.