Asia Pacific Wednesday, February 14, 2007

North Korea silent over Kim Jong Il successor

By Dirk Godder. Seoul, South Korea, 06:32 PM IST

Silence prevailed in Pyongyang over the possible successor to North Korea's current leader, Kim Jong Il, in the days leading up to his 65th birthday Friday.

Kim has already exceeded the age of his father and predecessor Kim Il Sung, who was 62-years-old when it was announced in 1974 that his son would be his successor.

Kim Jong Il was 33-years-old at the time. However, observers have started to wonder whether the family's power succession can continue any further in the Stalinist country.

When Kim Il Sung suddenly died at the age of 82 on July 8, 1994, it was commonly assumed by foreign countries that his son would take over the reins in North Korea.

Kim Jong Il not only took over all positions held by his deceased father as planned, but he also skilfully assimilated his father's personality cult and played on his father's charisma, which he himself was lacking.

It was as if the ghost of 'Great Leader' Kim Il Sung kept reigning.

But North Korea is not in an advantageous position to discuss the power succession at this time, said Kim Yong Hyun, a political expert at the Institute for North Korean Studies at Seoul's Dongguk University.

North Korea is confronted by numerous domestic and international problems, including chronic economic instability and the country's international quarrels over its nuclear weapons programme.

'If North Korea improves its relationship with the US and South Korea, it will be in a better position to discuss the succession matter,' the expert said.

'It is more probable and possible that Kim will designate a successor from outside of his family circle,' he said.

Even the North Korean establishment would not advocate a continuation of the family dynasty at this point, he added.

But since almost no details are coming from the power circle in Pyongyang, speculation about the succession will continue for the foreseeable future.

Even the question whether Kim retains absolute power cannot be conclusively answered by outsiders. Speculation, however, about possible military coups or presidential palace revolts have been proven wrong in the past.

Kim has been in power for more than a decade despite severe famine, widespread poverty and a ruined economy.

A little over one year ago, South Korean media reported that Kim had issued a ban on any discussion concerning his successor.

Kim has three sons, who in the past were regularly brought into play as possible successors by foreign media.

But experts suspect that Kim's oldest son, the 35-year-old Kim Jong Nam, might have fallen into disgrace with his father after he was arrested a few years ago in Japan on fake passport charges.

The other two sons, Kim Jong Jol, 25, and Kim Jong Un, 22, are from a different mother than Kim Jong Nam and are considered too young to be designated as Kim's successor.

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