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Pyongyang honours Kim Jong-un by appointing him General Secretary of the party

The idea is to emulate his figure to that of his grandfather
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un

AFP/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI  -   North Korean leader Kim Jong-un

The North Korean propaganda reported this day that leader Kim Jong-un was appointed general secretary of the Workers' Party, a position previously held by his father and grandfather and which contributes to further exalt his figure at the head of the regime.

The appointment took place on the sixth day of the 8th Congress of the One North Korean Party being held these days in Pyongyang, as reported on Monday by the state agency KCNA.

The appointment has a strong significance first of all at the domestic level, as the last general secretary until now had been his father, Kim Jong-il, who obtained the post in 1997 and kept it until his death in 2011.

In the wake of his grandfather

But almost more important is drawing parallels with his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, founder of the regime and a figure more revered in North Korea, who was appointed "eternal president" of the country at his death in 1994.

Kim Jong-un became first secretary in 2012, shortly after his father's death, and at the previous party congress in 2016 he became president, a rank his grandfather also held between 1949 and 1966, when, like his grandson now, he became "chongseogi" (general secretary).

The decision therefore seems to be aimed at building a narrative that will once again bring Kim Il-sung to the memory of the North Koreans, something the regime has been trying to do since Kim Jong-un came to power by taking advantage of the enormous similarities both physically and in character between grandfather and grandson.

At a time when the country seems to be experiencing its worst economic crisis in years, it seems sensible to link the figure of the young leader to that of his grandfather-synonymous with the military victories engineered by propaganda and (relative) prosperity-and not so much to that of his father, who was sullen and associated with the terrible famine of the 90s.

New figure among the five most powerful

The changes in the party's organizational chart have also led to the appointment of Jo Yong-won, considered a close collaborator of Kim Jong-un, as one of the five members of the Presidium of the Political Bureau, the main decision-making body of the party.

Jo has replaced Pak Pong-ju, becoming one of the five most powerful figures in the regime together with the other four members of the presidium: Kim Jong-un himself, Choi Ryong-hae, Ri Pyong-chol and Kim Tok-hun.

Many eyes were on him, as since he began to accompany the leader on his periodic visits in 2014 he has not ceased to gain prominence, to the extent that in 2019 he was appointed alternate member of the political bureau and deputy director of the Organisation and Orientation Department, the powerful body that supervises the party.

Today Jo is the civil servant who has appeared in public most often over the past five years alongside the leader, whom he has accompanied on important weapons tests during his trip to China in 2018, at a summit with the southern president, Moon Jae-in, and on two other occasions with the still president of the United States, Donald Trump.

The unknown of Kim Jong-un's sister

For her part, the leader's sister, Kim Yo-jong, has not been included in the list of alternate members of the party's political bureau, where she was first included in 2017.

Many experts hoped that this year, in which Kim Yo-jong has gained even more prominence by establishing herself on many occasions as the regime's spokesperson on foreign policy matters, she would be appointed to this list of officials, though many others point out that her absence does not imply a loss of status.

Seoul reaches out

Apart from the internal reorganisation of the single party, during the congress Kim Jong-un urged Joe Biden's incoming government in the United States to propose new alternatives for resuming the stalled dialogue on denuclearisation, warning that the North Korean army is preparing new weapons tests.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who was a key intermediary in getting Kim to hold three summits with Trump, said he would meet with North Korean representatives "wherever and whenever" to revive ties and the peace and disarmament process.

Meanwhile, the North Korean congress continues and will possibly conclude with a parade as the climax, as the southern army detected signs of what could have been a military procession in Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang on Sunday or a rehearsal of the same.