Kim Jong-il has declared discussion of his successor off limits, despite reports that the women in his life are plotting on behalf of their favorites.
Kim's sister, Kim Kyung-Hee, who is close to him and whose husband is one of the most powerful men in the regime, is said to be supportive of the dictator's oldest son, Jong-nam. A report in South Korean media suggests his personal assistant, widely believed to be his mistress, backs one of the other two. Jong-woon, 26, is said to be the personal favorite of his father.
None of his three sons was born to his official wife, Kim Yong-suk. He is believed to have had two daughters with her, one of whom, Kim Sul-seong, 34, is the most trusted legitimate confidante among Kim's immediate family circle. She is a deputy director in charge of personnel in the ruling Workers Party, but is unlikely to win the highest office: "North Korea is not yet ready for a woman leader," according to one North Korean official.
Kim prefers to leave the succession in the capable hands of the National Defense Commission while he struggles with settling the security and economic problems besetting his country.
According to a plan drawn up in late 2007, Kim will be able to think about his successor only after relations with the United States have been normalized and he has more confidence in how the country is likely to develop.