Friday, September 03, 2010

North Korea watchers’ predictions on Kim Jong-un rise to power

Kim Jong-il is expected to convene a rare congress of the ruling Workers’ Party in coming days to pave the way for his son to succeed him, a feat of political engineering that would be a first in the Communist world: extending dynastic rule to a third generation. 

The meeting, like all political events in the North, will be secret, and even the precise starting date has not been publicly confirmed. North Korea has said that the party’s “highest leading body” will be elected at the meeting; beyond that, the agenda is unknown, and it is unclear how the expected promotion of Mr. Kim’s third son, Kim Jong-un, will be presented.

Little is known about the son Kim Jong-un, believed to be in his late 20s. After his father’s stroke in 2008, however, his grooming as heir picked up speed. He has accompanied his father on visits to factories and military units and is getting policy briefings, according to South Korean intelligence officials who monitor developments in the North.

Songs, poems and posters alluding to the son are in circulation, they say. North Korean media have not mentioned the son by name, but propaganda has hinted about the virtues of transferring power to a younger generation.

“This party meeting will be a coming-out party for Kim Jong-un,” said Peter Beck, a North Korea expert at Keio University in Japan.

“A new force will come in who will pave the way for the succession and support the young, inexperienced kid as leader,” said Chang Yong-seok, research director at the Institute for Peace Affairs in Seoul. “If a new generation of leaders comes in, this is not a bad thing. They could be less bound by ideology and more pragmatic about opening up.”

Jang Song-taek, Mr. Kim’s brother-in-law, and hard-line generals on Mr. Kim’s National Defense Commission, the country’s top ruling body, are expected to move into crucial party posts to ensure a smooth transition of power, analysts say. Less clear is whether Mr. Kim is confident enough to place his son in the Politburo and the party’s Central Military Commission.

Woo Seong-ji, a professor at Kyung Hee University in Seoul, said that he believed Mr. Kim might start his son in a rather modest post to “lessen the shock” and buy time to build his leadership credentials.

Mr. Beck of Keio University said: “He can’t be too prominent because he is not known to the North Korean public. They have to make the sale to the public. But they have to make the sale to some of the elite, too.”

“I think he is chosen exactly because he is young,” said Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at Kookmin University in Seoul. “In case of his father’s sudden death, Kim Jong-un — inexperienced, without power base, embarrassingly young — will have no choice but to obediently follow the instructions of the old guard. He will be a dictator, but merely a rubber-stamping dictator. This is what the people in the position of power want.”

[New York Times]

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