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6 Rising Stars in the North Korean Elite

Posted March. 05, 2009 09:24,   


The results of general elections in North Korea slated for Sunday will present a clearer picture of which politicians will support supreme leader Kim Jong Il and his successor.

A report by the South Korean Unification Ministry presented to the National Assembly yesterday mentioned six politicians among the 20 most frequently mentioned by the North’s official daily Rodong Shinmun last year as rising stars in Pyongyang’s hierarchy.

The six were not mentioned in 2007.

One North Korea expert said, “North Korea’s leadership has been controlled by Kim Jong Il. Those frequently mentioned by media can be considered powerful politicians. After the elections Sunday, North Korea’s political elite will be replaced. In the process, we need to pay more attention to the rising stars.”

The most notable among the six is Ri Yong Chol, first secretary of the Central Committee of the Kim Il Sung Socialist Youth League. He ranks 15th for being mentioned 45 times last year.

Since being elected secretary in December 2007, Ri has often appeared on the political scene. He even had an interview with the state-run (North) Korean Central News Agency on the implementation of projects announced in a New Year’s joint editorial.

Kim Jong Il established the league, a fringe organization of the ruling Workers’ Party whose previous name was the Socialist Working Youth League, to strengthen the political foundation of his successor.

To lure the “third and fourth generations of revolution,” Kim renamed the body the Kim Il Sung Socialist Youth League after his late father.

In 2007, the list of the North’s top 20 politicians had nobody from the league. Ri’s rapid rise indicates Kim Jong Il’s strategy to strengthen the power of his successor.

Kim Thae Jong, vice director of the international department of the party’s Central Committee, ranks ninth for appearing 62 times in the media. He was a frequent player in diplomacy last year and even appeared in the royal box when North Korea held a national event to commemorate the 17th anniversary of Kim Jong Il’s taking office as supreme commander of the North’s military in December last year.

In 2007, Vice Marshal Kim Il Chol was the sole military officer among the top 20 elites but fell out of last year’s list.

Replacing him were marshals Hyon Chol Hae (11th) and Ri Myong Su (13th). Hyon accompanied Kim Jong Il most often last year and Ri ranked second in that category.

Among Cabinet members, Foreign Trade Minister Ri Ryong Nam, who was mentioned by media 43 times, ranked 17th. Kim Jong Il appointed nine new ministers including Ri last year.

Most of the six ministers appointed since October last year have been emerging technocrats.

A government official in South Korea said, “The rising political stars have emerged amid a national crisis, referring to the health problems of their leader. Given that, they will certainly yield much influence in the third phase of Kim’s leadership.”