11 October 2010

The North Korean Heir Apparent

In a rare display of openness, the Pyongyang government invited the international media to attend the massive military parade celebrating the 65th Anniversary of the ruling Korean Workers Party. Overlooking the festivities were Kim Jong Il, the ailing 68 year old reclusive leader of the Hermit Kingdom, and his 27 year old son Kim Jong Un.

North Korea has been an authoritarian, isolationist, proudly self-reliant socialist (some say Stalinist) state that has been run by the same family since its inception in 1948. “Eternal Leader” Kim Il-Sung developed a cult of personality to solidify his leadership in North Korea. His son, Kim Jong Il, was cultivated as the “Dear Leader” when he took the reigns of the Hermit Kingdom when his father died at 82 in 1994. But the world had not been as reverent to the Dear Leader’s reported eccentricities, particularly as depicted in Team America– World Police.

But being the first or second born son of the Dear Leader does not ensure inclusion on being included in the family “business”. “Dear Leader’s” eldest son Kim Jong Am, fell out of favor in 2001 when he was caught traveling on a forged passport while trying to visit Tokyo Disneyland. The South Korean media speculated that the middle son, Kim Jong-chul, was being groomed as the heir. However, Kim Jong-Il’s personal sushi chef claims that the father thought Kim Jong-chul was “no good because he is like a girl”. So the youngest son’s coming out with his ailing father indicates that Kim Jong Un is now the chosen one.

Needing to read the international tea leaves seems like the Cold War Kremlin watching of officials attending Soviet military parades. Unfortunately, in a paranoid, insular and authoritarian state, subtle observations convey important messages.

If North Korea was not an aggressive Nuclear Power with a proclivity to proliferate to our enemies, the political machinations in this isolationist repressive regime would mean little to the world at large. But “Dear Leader’s” brother-in-law Chang Sung-taek could try to take power from the chosen child. Even if there is not a familial power struggle, General O Kuk-ryol or his acoyltes might try to seize power in a military coup d’etat.

Speculation centered on Kim Jong Il was going to hold on to power until 2012 and the parade was the sign of succession. However, “Dear Leader” looked quite frail and this introduction of his presumed successor may have been rushed in case C needed to assume power earlier.

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