The South Korean press has just published text from amendments to the North Korean Constitution adopted this April. The Constitution apparently promotes Kim Jong-Il from Dear Leader to Supreme Leader; it also beefs up the role of the National Defence Commission, chaired by Kim. Commentators also note new emphasis on Kim’s doctrine of “military first” and so assume that the reforms are designed to consolidate the role of the military in the wake of Kim’s stroke last year.
We know little about the timing of constitutional reforms in authoritarian countries generally, much less stalinist one. But the history of Soviet constitutions suggests correlation between constiutional change and leadership change. New leaders sought to put their imprint on the national constitution. The North Korean case may have more to do with consolidating power to assure the succession of Kim Jong-Un, the Supreme Leader’s third son and designated successor, in the event something happens to Kim Jong-Il.