September 28, 2009 / 8:46 AM / 11 years ago

North Korea drops communism, boosts "Dear Leader"

(For full coverage of North Korea, click [ID:nNORKOR])

By Jon Herskovitz and Christine Kim

SEOUL, Sept 28 (Reuters) - North Korea has revised its constitution to give even more power to leader Kim Jong-il, ditch communism and elevate his "military first" ideology, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said on Monday.

Though there is little doubt over the 67-year-old Kim’s power, secured by his role as chairman of the National Defence Commission, the new constitution removes any risk of ambiguity.

"The chairman is the highest general of the entire military and commands the entire country," according to a text of the constitution enacted by the reclusive North in April and only now released by the South Korean government.

The chairman is now the country’s "supreme leader". Though the position had become the seat of power under Kim, the previous constitution in 1998 simply said the chairman oversees matters of state.

It was April when Kim, often referred to by a fawning state media as "Dear Leader", returned to the public eye after being felled by what is widely speculated to have been a stroke the previous August.

That in turn was followed by the hermit state’s second nuclear test, mounting threats against a hostile world and the launch of a 5-month campaign to boost its broken economy.

It was also then that word reached outside the secretive state that Kim appeared to have picked his third son as successor to the world’s first communist dynasty, whose rule is underpinned by a personality cult.

But the Unification Ministry said the new charter removes all reference to communism, the guiding ideology when Kim’s father Kim Il-sung founded North Korea — of which since his death in 1994 he has been eternal president.

Often in its place is "songun", the policy of placing the military first and which has been Kim junior’s ruling principle.

South Korean media quoted an official from the North as saying that it made the change because it felt the ideals of communism are "hard to fulfil".

The new constitution adds assurances for protecting human rights, even though North Korea has one of the world’s worst records.

Experts on the North’s state propaganda said the military first ideology has helped Kim dodge responsibility for the country’s sharp economic decline by arguing that heavy defence spending was needed to overcome threats posed by the United States.

It has also meant that the bulk of the North’s limited resources have gone into beefing up a million-strong military at the expense of the rest of the population who make up one of Asia’s poorest societies.

The North’s economy was once richer than South Korea, which now ranks the fourth largest in Asia. North Korea has only grown weaker since Kim took power and after a famine in the 1990s killed an estimated 1 million of the North’s then population of 22 million people. (Editing by Jonathan Thatcher and Dean Yates)

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