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Tough Succession Road Awaits N. Korea`s Heir Apparent

Posted June. 03, 2009 07:37,   


The selection of Kim Jong Un as the heir apparent to his father and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is expected to accelerate preparation for the power transfer in the Stalinist country. Yet the junior Kim will face a difficult road in the process of succession.

○ Different start from Kim Jong Il

The power succession situation in the North is similar to that of 1974, when Kim Jong Il was unofficially named to succeed his father and the country’s founder Kim Il Sung. The designation process is quite different from the past, however.

Kim Jong Il was named successor through democratic procedures, though they were merely a formality. Figures from the North’s first “revolutionary generation” had urged his designation from 1970 and Kim Il Sung accepted. The unofficial designation was made at the plenary session of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers` Party in 1974.

On the contrary, Kim Jong Il’s youngest son Jong Un appears to have been unilaterally named successor by his father without support from the North Korean elite.

When named as heir, Kim Jong Il was 32 and took control of the Workers` Party while serving as the party’s organizing secretary, head of the organization and guidance department of the party’s Central Committee, propaganda secretary, and party director for propaganda and agitation.

In contrast, Kim Jong Un is in the process of acquiring political skills as a mid-level official in both the party and the powerful National Defense Commission. This means he lacks the ability and legitimacy as a successor, according to North Korea experts.

○ Uneasy power transfer expected

Six years after his unofficial designation as successor, Kim Jong Il was officially named to succeed his father at the party’s 1980 convention.

Experts say the reclusive leader wishes to finish the power transfer by 2012, the target year when the North plans to emerge as a powerful country.

The succession process is fraught with hurdles, however. Kim Jong Il secured legitimacy and full power over the party and other power organizations after his unofficial designation by obtaining exclusive rights to interpret the “juche (self-reliance)” ideology. By contrast, Kim Jong Un has had little time to foster his individual capacity, gain legitimacy, and build his support base in government organizations.

For this reason, speculation is growing that Kim Jong Il will act as a regent for a long time. North Korea expert Lee Seung-yeol said, “Kim Jong Il wants to remain in power by appointing his youngest son his successor.”

If Kim Jong Il’s health suddenly deteriorates or internal dispute arises due to aggravating foreign relations before his son’s official designation, the political situation in the North is feared to go out of control.

○ Opposition to Kim Jong Un’s nomination

Certain North Korean intellectuals have begun voicing their opposition to Kim Jong Un’s appointment as successor, according to sources familiar with North Korea. On Pyongyang’s hard-line policies aimed at smoothing the way for the power transfer, the sources quote the intellectuals as saying a reckless hard-line foreign policy will further deepen the North’s isolation from the international community and undermine the power transfer spanning three generations.

A North Korean defector who was a high-ranking official in the North said, “Since Kim Jong Un’s mother Ko Young-hee is not Kim Jong Il’s legitimate wife and Jong Un lacks communication with the North Korean people due to his study abroad, North Koreans will be reluctant to recognize him as a successor.”