No ‘voluntary resignation’ in North Korea

North Korean men in Pyongyang taking a break from work.

North Korean men in Pyongyang taking a break from work.

On March 4th, Kim Jong-hoon, North Korea’s incoming Minister for Future Creation Science, declared his voluntary resignation from the post he was to have taken up. In North Korea, however, there is no such thing as voluntary resignation: anyone who ‘voluntarily resigns’ will be prosecuted for treason, as having challenged the confidence of the North Korean state. In this context, the resignation of Kim Jong-hoon carries with it a connotation of rebellion.

In North Korea, the political elite may leave his post in only one of three ways. The official may be purged, may die or become seriously ill, or they may defect – as did Hwang Jang-yup, the former Secretary of the Korean Workers’ Party. Any suggestion of an individual’s resignation is therefore understood as a direct challenge to the Party; or it is synonymous with a purge.

North Korean exile Ahn Jin-hyeon* was formerly a senior official in the state. He told us, “In North Korea, if you raise the subject of voluntary resignation, you might as well have insulted the Great Leader. Personal circumstances don’t count for anything. I knew an official who told his colleague that he ‘wanted to take a short break,’ although he did not actually mention resignation. Nevertheless, he was purged. Within an extremely competitive environment where everyone is competing to prove their loyalty to the state, someone had decided to benefit by snitching on the official for his private comments.”

In an atmosphere where the intention to resign from office is considered severely as an act of treason and interpreted as putting individual interests before that of the Party, the word ‘resignation’ is taboo. Nevertheless, the North Korean state did allow an exception for its state newspaperduring last year’s period of South Korean presidential campaigning, North Korea’s Rodong Shinmun continuously demanded the ‘voluntary resignation’ of presidential candidate Park Geun-hye.