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So Who Will Succeed Kim Jong Il?

Posted September. 12, 2008 03:59,   


If North Korean leader Kim Jong Il dies, this will not only change the power structure in the North’s military and the country’s future but also serve as a destabilizing factor in inter-Korean relations.

The reclusive leader recently suffered a stroke. If his condition deteriorates and leads to a power vacuum, the communist country with a “military-first policy” will plunge into a major political crisis that could see a power struggle within the military or a coup d’état.

If Kim dies or slips into a coma, Kim Yong Nam, the head of the Supreme People`s Assembly, or the North’s parliament, is the first in line to the throne. Kim Yong Nam is also the North’s nominal head of state.

Chances are, however, that top brass who occupy high posts in the Central Military Commission could emerge as potential successors since they can control the military, the basis of the communist regime.

Several powerful military figures also hold major positions in the Central Military Commission and the National Defense Commission and accompany Kim Jong II on visits to military facilities.

With the revision of the North’s constitution in 1998, the National Defense Commission has evolved from the supreme military command to the supreme decision-making organization that controls state affairs.

Experts say one of the North’s top three military officials -- Ri Ul Sol, Jo Myong Rok or Kim Il Chol -- is likely to take over if Kim Jong Il dies.

Ri, 87, is the marshal of the North Korean People`s Army and the number two man in the Central Military Commission. He retired from politics in 2005.

The most likely candidate to assume power in the post-Kim Jong Il era is said to be Vice Marshal Jo, the director of the general political bureau of the North Korean army. He ranks second in the National Defense Commission and third in the Central Military Commission.

If Jo, 80, has command of the military, he is likely to exercise control over nuclear arms. South Korean and U.S. intelligence say the North has six to 10 nuclear weapons.

Jo’s ill health, however, will apparently prevent him from assuming power. He is also known to be suffering from renal failure and is rumored to be in critical condition.

Other likely candidates include Kim Yong Chun, chief of staff of the North Korean army; General Ri Myong Su, operations director of the National Defense Commission; and Vice Marshal Hyon Chol Hae, deputy director of the North Korean army’s general political bureau.

Kim Yong Chun reviewed the troops at the 60th anniversary celebration of North Korea’s founding. Ri Myong Su often accompanied Kim Jong Il in military inspections.

Instability in the military and an intense power struggle are also forecast because supreme leader Kim has not appointed his successor. This is in contrast to his father and predecessor Kim Il Sung, who had groomed Kim Jong Il as his heir before he died in 1994.

In this case, pro-China military officials who have maintained friendly relations with the Chinese military will clash with those favoring Russia.

North Korea experts say pro-China figures will gain ground since they are close aides to Kim Jong Il and exert more influence.

Another possibility is a military coup. This scenario is rather improbable because the Workers’ Party and the North Korean government keep a close eye on every military unit.

The possibility of a coup cannot be ruled out, however, if the reclusive leader’s death leads to a power vacuum for an extended period of time.