May 09, 2016 12:36
North Korea's Workers Party congress was a chance to confirm the enduring position of eight ancient apparatchiks who rose to power at the last congress 36 years ago.
They were the octogenarian ceremonial head of state, Kim Yong-nam (88), propaganda chief Kim Ki-nam (87), Premier Pak Pong-ju (77), ex-premier Choe Yong-rim (88), O Kuk-ryol (85), the vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, Ju Kyu-chang (88), former director of the Machine-Building Industry Department, Yang Hyong-sop (91), vice president of the Supreme People's Assembly, and Tae Jong-su (80), secretary of the South Hamgyong chapter of the party.
The eight performed their bows in reverence to nation founder Kim Il-sung during the last Workers Party congress and repeated the gesture somewhat more creakily in front of Kim Jong-un.
Kim Yong-nam, who was appointed Workers Party secretary 36 years ago, sat on Kim Jong-un's right hand thanks to his eel-like skill of avoiding even minor demotions during his marathon career.
"The survivors know when to keep their mouths shut and are very cautious about expressing their views," a source said.
Prof. Nam Sung-wook of Korea University said their presence shows that Kim Jong-un is after an impression of stability and permanence and keen on an even distribution of power among party and military officials. A major reshuffle of top officials is unlikely.”
Some pundits had expected Kim to implement a sweeping generation change, but instead they go more of the old faces.
Choe Kyong-hui, a defector who is a researcher at Hanyang University in Seoul said, "Sacking the entire old guard could lead to instability from generational conflicts. The old guard will retain their ceremonial titles, but younger officials could be assigned to key posts."
One source in North Korea said, "The old guard has complained that the new generation are strutting around like they own the place. There are rumors that an anti-Kim Jong-un slogan found on a wall in Pyongyang recently was scribble by disgruntled old guard members who have fallen on hard times."
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