In a major change to North Korea's ruling party, Kim Jong Un has a new second-in-command, according to excerpts of a government document seen by CNN.
The position was created in January as part of a revision to the rules of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK), the communist political organ that rules the secretive country.
However, it is unclear who has filled it. Experts believe it could be vacant or occupied by Jo Yong Won or Kim Tok Hun, two of the most powerful men in North Korea's government, reported CNN.
Jo, who is in his 60s and believed to be one of Kim Jong Un's longest-tenured and most-trusted aides, serves as the secretary of the WPK's central committee. He is often photographed alongside the young North Korean leader. Kim Tok Hun is the premier of North Korea's government.
Jo and Kim have, according to North Korean state media, chaired meetings or conducted official visits across the country this year that previously would have likely been handled by Kim Jong Un, reported CNN.
Some analysts believe that only members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the upper-most echelon of the WPK, would be eligible for the new role.
That means Kim's powerful sister, Kim Yo Jong, is probably not the person tapped for the role, according to Lim Eul-chul, a professor at Kyungnam University's Graduate School of North Korean Studies.
Though Kim has influence "comparable to the second-most powerful person in North Korea," she does not occupy a high rank in the WPK, Lim noted.
However, former Unification Minister Lee Jong-seok said it's possible Kim Yo Jong could fill the role in the event of an emergency.
There is nothing to indicate the position's creation has anything to do with Kim Jong Un's health, which was the subject of intense speculation last year after he disappeared from state media for several weeks, reported CNN.
It's also unlikely whoever occupies the new position, officially the first secretary of the WPK, would take power from Kim Jong Un if he were to die or become incapacitated.
Some analysts believe it would be difficult for Kim to install a successor outside his immediate family, who have ruled North Korea since its inception. Others believe that, as a man in his 30s, he is simply too young to be thinking about a succession plan, CNN reported.
Kim Jong Un once held the title of first secretary, but in January named himself general secretary of the party, a title previously held by his father. Kim Jong Il was designated "eternal general secretary" after his death in 2011.
The addition of the new first secretary position was one of several changes the WPK made to its rules, the ninth time it has made such revisions.
Several of them emphasize Kim's stated desire to improve North Korea's economy. However, his plans to pull the country out of dire poverty have in large part failed due to punishing international sanctions and the draconian measures Pyongyang enacted to keep Covid-19 at bay, reported CNN.
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