SEOUL: Kim Jong Un was Wednesday “re-elected” as North Korea’s leader, state media said, as parliament met in a session closely watched for power shifts in the regime following the shock execution of his once-powerful uncle.
The new parliament also elected members of the National Defense Commission, appointing Kim’s close confidant as one of three vice chairmen Choe Ryong Han of the top military decision-making body.
Kim Yong Nam retained his status as de facto head of state when he was re-elected chairman of parliament’s standing committee.
The country does not have a president because the current leader’s grandfather Kim Il Sung, who died in 1994, has been declared its “eternal president.”
The parliament known as the Supreme People’s Assembly also reshuffled the Cabinet, the supreme court and prosecution authorities, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said.
Former Ambassador to Switzerland Ri Su Yong became new foreign minister, replacing Pak Ui Chun, while Prime Minister Pak Pong Ju retained his post.
Kim’s uncle Jang Song Thaek, once the North’s unofficial No. 2 and Kim’s political mentor, was a vice chairman of the NDC before he was executed last December on charges including treason and corruption.
Kim was reaffirmed as First Chairman of the NDC by the new parliament, in a show of “absolute support and trust of all service personnel and people in him,” KCNA said.
The session of the rubber-stamp parliament was held after North Koreans last month cast ballots in predetermined elections in which all candidates were unopposed.
Upon Kim’s re-election, “all the deputies and participants in the session broke into stormy cheers of ‘hurrah!,’ extending the highest glory and warmest congratulations to him,” KCNA said.
Kim is also first secretary of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea and supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army. But his re-election as head of the top military body gives him ultimate power in the heavily militarized state.
Defense Minister Jang Jong Nam became a new member of the NDC.
“All this means that Kim Jong Un wants gradual changes amid stability,” Professor Yang Moo Jin of Seoul’s University of North Korea Studies told AFP, adding the new lineup is a mixture of aged and younger members of the elite.
Parliament meets only once or twice a year, mostly for daylong sessions to rubber-stamp budgets or other decisions made by the ruling party.
The last session in April 2013 adopted a special order formalizing North Korea’s position as a nuclear-armed state – a status that both South Korea and the United States have vowed not to recognize.
Wednesday’s session came amid rising tensions between the two Koreas following a series of threats by Pyongyang in protest at ongoing Seoul-Washington military drills.
The North since last month has staged a series of rocket and short-range missile tests, as well as its first mid-range missile launch since 2009.
The two Koreas traded fire across their tense Yellow Sea border last week, with the shells landing in the sea. The North dropped some 100 shells over the border during a live-fire drill, prompting Seoul to fire back.
Kim last week warned of a “very grave situation” in a meeting with his top army leaders.
And South Korean President Park Geun-Hye called Monday for tighter vigilance against the North, after Pyongyang warned on March 30 of the prospect of a “new form of nuclear test.”