The apparent removal of Jang Song-thaek and his two lieutenants is the most extensive, but only the latest, purge of top officials as young leader Kim Jong-un tightens his grip on power.
Jang, Kim’s uncle and vice chairman of the North’s National Defense Commission, was reportedly relieved of all political responsibilities.
|Ri Yong-ha (left) and Jang Su-gil are reported to have been publicly executed last month as a part of a purge of political figures close to Jang Song-thaek, Kim Jong-un’s uncle and former vice chairman of the National Defense Commission. (Yonhap News)|
Ri Yong-ha and Jang Su-gil, senior officials suspected to be close to Jang, were executed last month according to South Korea’s National Intelligence Service.
The two aides were influential individuals in North Korea’s powerful Ministry of Labor Administration, a bureau charged with law enforcement and judicial duties among other responsibilities.
One analyst called the downfall of Jang Song-thaek and company a not-so astonishing event however, considering the number of military officers, intelligence specialists and career bureaucrats kicked out since Kim’s rise.
“This shouldn’t come as a big surprise,” said Daniel Pinkston, the deputy project director at the International Crisis Group’s Seoul bureau. In fact, according to Pinkston, purges in a dictatorship are a natural process in solidifying political power.
During the last two years under Kim, even the long-cherished and traditionally favored North Korean military has been undergoing a rather rapid personnel reshuffle.
Vice Marshal Ri Yong-ho lost his job as the General Staff Chief in July 2012, after which two more senior military officers were fired from the post in only a 15-month span.
Even Kim Kyok-sik, the hero of the North’s artillery attack on the South Korean border island of Yeonpyeong-do in November 2010, was fired from the military’s top post and has not been seen since August, not long after a North Korean ship carrying weapons was seized in the Panama Canal in July.
Becoming the minister of the People’s Armed Forces has also not been a hearty prospect with the ministry reins switching hands three times in two years. Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-un’s grandfather and North Korean founder, only had five individuals serve as the minister of the People’s Armed Forces during his 46-year rule while Kim Jong-il had only three do so in 17.
The list of purged individuals since the rise of Kim Jong-un goes on. Woo Dong-cheuk, an intelligence specialist and senior domestic security official was purged in March 2012 while Park Nam-gi, the former leader of the North’s National Planning Commission and an advocate of economic reforms, was purged in January 2011 for the failed 2009 currency reforms.
A North Korea pundit told The Korea Herald that the purges would eventually slow down.
“The reason all these purges are going on is because Kim (Jong-un)’s grip on political power is imperfect,” said Lim Jae-cheon, professor in Korea University’s Department of North Korean studies.
“But I’m assuming for now that this should be the beginning of the end, in terms of Kim Jong-un solidifying his power.”
By Jeong Hunny (firstname.lastname@example.org)