Sunday, June 27, 2010

September transfer of power in North Korea?

In September, North Korea will hold only the third-ever meeting of its ruling party, the clearest sign yet that the hermit nation is preparing for a transfer of power.

The announcement that the Political Bureau of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) would gather to elect a new leadership follows an intense period of political jockeying in the secretive state. Ailing leader Kim Jong-il is desperate to ensure that his son Kim Jong-un is anointed as his successor.

It was at the last meeting of the WPK in 1980 that Kim Jong-il was made his father's official successor, when he was elected as a standing member of the Political Bureau. Analysts in South Korea, such as Koh Yu-hwan, an expert on North Korea at Seoul's Dongguk University, are speculating that the September session will result in Kim Jong-un being elevated in the party hierarchy.

Said to resemble his father in personality, the 27-year-old Jong-un was educated at a Swiss boarding school. With Kim Jong-il in poor health since suffering a stroke in 2008, Jong-un has started to take a more prominent role in DPRK politics. Last year, he was elected to a position on the National Defense Commission.

Yet Kim Jong-il faces a fight in his efforts to make sure his son becomes the third generation of his family to rule the DPRK. The mysterious death in a car crash earlier this month of Ri Je-gang, one of the most senior WPK officials and a key supporter of Kim Jong-un's succession, has fuelled speculation that the powerful North Korean military would prefer one of their own to succeed Kim.

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