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Report: NK Not to See Father-to-Son Power Transfer

Posted February. 20, 2009 03:10,   


North Korea’s power transfer is getting renewed attention as domestic and foreign media say supreme leader Kim Jong Il has picked his youngest son Jong Un as his successor.

The questions hovering over the North are if Kim Jong Il can pass on power to his son as his late father Kim Il Sung did; if the North remain politically stable after the transfer; and if Kim is eligible and capable of picking his son as successor.

A man who earned his Ph.D. from the University of North Korean Studies says “no” to all three questions. Lee Seung-ryeol, 39, wrote a thesis called “Study on Changes in North Korea’s Suryeong (Great Leader) System and Limitations to its Power Transfer System.”

▽ “Great Leader” system and power transfer

Lee said another transfer of power from father to son is impossible due to the fundamental limits of the North’s “Suryeong” system.

Kim Jong Il has created a unique system to inherit power from his late father. Masayuki Suzuki, a Japanese scholar of North Korea, echoed Lee’s view by calling the system “something that aims at continuing the Suryeong leadership by transferring power from father to son.”

North Korea’s power transfer is completed when a successor inherits a Suryeong’s revolutionary feat and sets up his own leadership under the same system, said Lee.

“Though one of Kim Jong Il’s sons is selected the successor, if he fails to create his own governing system, the power transfer will fail,” he said.

▽ Dictatorship backfires

On structural reasons for Kim Jong Il to fail to achieve a father-to-son power transfer, Lee said Kim is not a “Great Leader.”

Kim revised the North’s constitution in 1998 to abolish the post of president and distribute power to the ruling Workers’ Party, the National Defense Commission, the Supreme People`s Assembly and the Cabinet. He has made it clear that he is a mere successor to the Great Leader (his later father) by calling him the “eternal Great Leader” in the constitution’s preamble.

Lee cited the weakening party as the second structural reason. When first presenting a theory of “socio-political life” in 1974, Kim said the Great Leader, equivalent to the human brain, takes control of the people through the party.

In the process of consolidating his one-man dictatorship, however, he undermined the part’s authority and reduced the party to a nominal political entity. Under the policy of “military first” since 1990, he elevated the military’s role while weakening the institutional basis of the Great Leader.

Kim Jong Il has monopolized top posts including general secretary of the Workers` Party, chairman of the National Defense Commission, and head of the organization and guidance department of the party, so there is no room for a successor to expand his influence.

▽ Lack of public support and time

Another obstacle to the father-to-son transfer is Kim’s relatively low approval ratings compared to his late father and lack of time to prepare for the power transfer, said Lee.

The late Kim Il Sung appointed his son heir in 1974 based on solid public support and groomed him for two decades. On the contrary, Kim Jong Il, who is suffering from diabetes and other vascular diseases, seems to have little time to do the same.

“The father-to-son power transfer takes much time,” Lee said. “It needs a son to form his own organization, confidants and discipline under a father’s support. But Kim Jong Il and his son Jong Un have had little time to do so.”

▽ Instability in post-Kim Jong Il era

Baek Seung-joo, head of the national security strategy center at the Korea Institute for Defense Analysis, said, “A successor must have a power base, personal qualities and abilities.”

“Despite his selection as the successor by his father, if he lacks these capabilities, he (Jong Un) is highly likely to be ousted when his father’s political life ends.”

On this, one government official in Seoul said, “Rather than paying attention to Kim Jong Il’s possible successor, we should prepare for the inevitable instability the post-Kim Jong Il regime will bring.”