SEOUL – North Korea’s Choe Ryong-hae, considered to be the country’s leader’s right-hand man, has been appointed as head of the ruling party’s Organization and Guidance Department, South Korea’s Ministry of Unification confirmed to EFE on Friday.
Choe, 68, is a vice chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, which is headed by leader Kim Jong-un.
Choe was possibly designated to the post during the important plenary session of the party that took place in October 2017, but the appointment was not mentioned by North Korean state media given the lack of transparency surrounding this department, the South Korean ministry told EFE.
With this appointment, Choe, who fell out of favor in 2014 but was later restored, has reinforced his “No. 2” position in the country’s leadership and he was also given a seat in the party’s powerful Central Military Commission during the October meeting.
The Organization and Guidance Department is considered the most influential agency in the isolated Asian country.
This is also the first time since the 1990s that someone who is not part of the Kim family is leading the department.
One of the indications behind the appointment could have been that North Korean media, while naming the dignitaries who were attending the October session, named Choe before naming Hwang Pyong-so, another party heavyweight, and not the other way round, as protocol dictated earlier.
Hwang fell out of favor in November, and according to the South Korean National Intelligence Service, may have been purged by Choe himself.
A Ministry of Unification report also states that after the removal of Kim Won-hong as North Korean minister of state security last year, Jong Kyong-thaek, who is also a member of the CMC, was nominated as his replacement.