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Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Signs of a Succession?

Previous posts on this blog have touched on the issue of who will succeed Kim Jong-il as North Korea's leader.  Kim's recent visit to China was seen by some as an attempt to gather Chinese support for the succession of Kim Jong-un (his third son) to the top position in North Korean politics when he eventually dies.  Unconfirmed reports that Kim Jong-il has been severely ill in recent years further lend weight to the notion that he is trying to set-up Kim Jong-un as the DPRK's next leader, in the hope of keeping the top job in the family.

The BBC has highlighted a statement released today by the Korean Central News Agency which declares that "the conference of the WPK for electing its supreme leadership body will take place in Pyongyang on Sept. 28."  As the BBC points out, it was at a similar conference in 1980 that Kim Jong-il was elevated to a senior position in the WPK- a move that effectively anointed him as the successor to his father (and then leader) Kim Il-sung.  If Kim Jong-un receives a similar such promotion next week, this will give a strong signal that the WPK sees its future as resting with another member of the Kim dynasty.

However, as the BBC's John Sudworth points out, "how easy it will be for a young, inexperienced third-generation heir to gain the confidence of the military and other powerful leading figures is another matter."  When he took over in 1994, Kim Jong-il had the benefit of several decades experience in North Korean politics, with the DPRK having 14 years to get used to the idea of his succession before Kim Il-sung eventually died in 1994.  Kim Jong-un, who is thought to be only in his late 20s, has no such political gravitas.  The moves to elect the WPK's new leadership are tinged with a sense of urgency, suggesting North Korea's leader may not have long to live.  Thus, even if Kim Jong-un were to be established as the man to takeover, there is no guarantee that his more powerful and experienced rivals will be co-operative.  A regime is often at its weakest during times of leadership changes and handovers, and opportunists in North Korea's power elite may look to use this to their advantage.  However much Kim Jong-il may try and pave the way for his son, it is unlikely that all will be plain-sailing for Kim Jong-un.

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