North Korean leader Kim Jong Un appeared to shed tears at the weekend as he thanked citizens for their sacrifices, in the most striking demonstration yet of how he is relying on his “man of the people” persona to tackle his country’s deepening crises.

Though the young leader has consolidated his rule over the isolated nation with ruthless purges, North Korea watchers say he has also sought to portray himself as a more traditional political leader than his eccentric father, Kim Jong Il.

Speaking at a military parade on Saturday, Kim became emotional as he paid tribute to troops for their response to national disasters and preventing a coronavirus outbreak and apologised to citizens for failing to raise living standards.

“Kim’s modesty and candour, and his tears and choking, were all highly unusual, even for someone who publicly acknowledges shortcomings and has an established pattern of being expressive,” said Rachel Minyoung Lee, an independent researcher and former open-source North Korea analyst for the U.S. government.

The speech, which was clearly carefully designed to resonate with the domestic audience, likely cemented Kim’s image as a competent, charismatic leader who also has a human side to him, she said.

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