North Korean leader Kim Jong-un appears to be balancing power between two of his top deputies to forestall the rise of a potential challenger like Jang Song-thaek, his once-powerful uncle who was executed last December for allegedly plotting to overthrow the regime.
After the demise of Jang, Choe Ryong-hae, the former director of the North Korean military's General Political Bureau, emerged as the regime's No. 2 man. But with the emergence of Hwang Pyong-so, a high-flying military figure, Choe's status has waned.
Analysts said that North Korean leader Kim appears to be splitting power between Choe and Hwang, as he has left Hwang to take charge of the military and Choe to lead the civilian sector. Previously, Choe wielded enormous power over both military and civilian affairs.
Hwang came to prominence early this year. In April, he was picked as the director of the General Political Bureau, the most powerful military entity, which oversees promotions, position assignments and disciplinary action.
In the same month, he was promoted to vice marshal ― a rank higher than four-star general ― less than a month after he was given the four-star-general rank.
During a session of the North's Supreme People's Assembly last Thursday, Hwang was also appointed as a vice chairman of the North's powerful National Defence Commission, cementing his status as a top military commander.
Amid Hwang's climb up the military ladder, Choe has lost his influence in the military. After he stepped down as the General Political Bureau chief, he also resigned from the vice chairman post of the National Defence Commission.
But Choe appears to still maintain considerable political power. He is now secretary of the ruling Workers' Party, in charge of the labour group ― a relatively low, but influential position because the labour group is a critical pillar of the communist state.
Choe also holds the top post in the national sports guidance commission. Given that the North Korean leader is a big fan of sports, and that the commission members include political heavyweights such as Kim Yang-gon, a secretary of the ruling party, the title of sports chief indicates that Choe still holds much political influence, analysts said.
Following the execution of Jang, Kim might have felt the need to keep in check deputies who could potentially pose a challenge to his leadership, observers said. Having said that, Hwang's power would also be limited.
Some argue that the rise of Hwang, currently first director of the Workers' Party's organisation guidance department, could help tighten the party's control over the military, rather than strengthening the military's power in state governance.
Kim has been seen trying to reduce the role of the rigid, conservative military in state affairs to add more flexibility in his state management.