In the group photograph taken September 30, international attention was focused on Kim Jong Un, the youngest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and heir apparent. But another individual in that photograph, sitting five places to the right of Jong Il, may warrant even more attention than Jong Un.
The woman is Kim Kyong Hui, 64, Jong Il's younger sister and the "godmother of the royal family." Kyong Hui also marked her debut on the political stage at the meeting. After being named general, she was appointed to the party Politburo.
Kim Kyong Hui has been described as cantankerous, obstinate and a drunk. North Korean insiders say Kyong Hui has a violent temperament and never changes her mind once she has made a decision.
Kyong Hui is a regular member of the alcohol drinking parties hosted by Jong Il and attended by high-ranking party officials. According to sources, she cannot stop drinking once she starts. She has been known to drunkenly bellow: "Hey, Jang Song Thaek, drink up!"
She is said to be the only person who can give advice to Jong Il. And he apparently can do little to control his younger sister. Hwang Jang Yop, a former party secretary who defected to South Korea in 1997, wrote in a book that Kyong Hui once told him, "Although he is surrounded by many flatterers, my older brother [Kim Jong Il] is actually very lonely."
Kyong Hui is also well known for being a "shadow power broker." Japanese companies seeking to move into North Korea sought out personal connections that would eventually lead to her.
She met her husband, Jang Song Thaek, who came from an ordinary family outside of Pyongyang, when they were students at Kim Il Sung University. Jang heads the party's Administration Department, which gives him control over public security and the "thought police." In June, he was promoted to vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, the highest decision-making organ in North Korea.
Ha Tae-keung, who heads Open Radio for North Korea based in Seoul, said: "Kim Jong Il is probably very worried about the fate of his dynasty should anything happen to him under the present circumstances. He probably wanted to give his younger sister greater authority now, so that when the time comes, she can serve in the roles of 'executor of the will' and 'manager of the dynasty.'"