The BBC spoke with the names of candidates for North Korean leadership, and tried to figure out who the winds of history were blowing.
Ever since North Korea was founded in 1948, a man from the family of the country’s founder Kim Il-Sung has ruled and it is possible to say that the family is a legend before the society. The teaching of the glory of the Kim dynasty is being instilled before the citizens learn to read and write. Kindergarten students sing “I want to see our leader Kim Jong-un”.
In this case, is it possible to think of North Korea without a symbolic leader at the beginning? What does the ruling class and society do in such a situation? We do not know the answer to these questions. Even more interesting, they probably do not know either because they have not encountered such a problem before.
WHO WAS ALWAYS TO RERE THE COUNTRY
Kim Jong-un came to power 9 years ago at the age of 27. Kim, who is 36, is thought to have three children but the youngest is 10 and the youngest is 3 years old. So who can be the heir to the North Korean government?
If something happens to Kim Jong-un, there is a possibility that some sort of group leadership might emerge, similar to that in Vietnam, that is powered by the teacher’s and legitimacy of the founding leader.
Observers can track who is in key positions in the country and understand which key institutions are from open intelligence sources. But they cannot say how much power different factions are gathering in power, or who has power through individual ties, not institutions.
Moreover, sometimes vice-presidents of institutions can be stronger than presidents of the same institutions. All this makes guessing very difficult.
If anything happens to Kim Jong-un, there are three more Kim who have the potential to play a role in North Korea’s politics. All three have some limits on maintaining the dynasty.
Kim Yo-jong is the younger sister of Kim Jong-un.
It is said that Kim Jong-Il is his favorite daughter and that his father spoke of his maturity and curiosity about politics from a young age.
Kim Yo-jong, who is skilled, soft-headed, and possibly has high observation power, is also thought to be close to her brother. At the summit, where he met with US President Donald Trump in Singapore, he always pointed out that he extended the pen to Kim Jong-un to sign the agreement, and then entered the background at the summit in Hanoi.
However, after the Hanoi summit, there was a rumor that their powers were reduced temporarily due to the failure of this summit; but this has never been verified.
Kim Yo-jong is not a member of the Giants Affairs Commission, where important political decisions are made in North Korea, but he is a member of the ruling party’s central committee, as well as vice president of the propaganda and agitation section of the Labor Party.
All this can be seen as incomprehensible institutions and authorities, but the Korean Workers’ Party is a strong organization and a structure that provides ideological loyalty to the system.
However, Kim Yo-jong is a woman, which makes it difficult to put her in the top position in a deeply patriarchal country. North Korea, a male state structure and gender roles bring very strict expectations. Going to the rank of leader and especially being the commander of the army is not within the scope of the duties and responsibilities of a woman in this culture.
The second is Kim Jong-chul. He is Kim Jong-un’s older brother. But he never showed interest in politics or power. (A piece of information about him likes the famous guitarist Eric Clapton.) At most, he can form a symbolic bond with the Kim family, be put in charge of a foundation, or be given a speech.
The third and last Kim is Kim Pyong-il, Kim Jong-il, the half-brother of the previous leader, the uncle of Kim Jong-un. He struggled to replace his mother Kim Jong-il with his founding leader Kim Il-sung, but failed.
Kim Pyong-il was sent to Europe in 1979 and returned to North Korea last year after serving as ambassador in several countries. It is possible to say that it is very unlikely that they will have strong relationships among the ruling elite in Pyongyang, since he has spent a significant and long period of his life abroad and has just returned.
ANOTHER STRONG NAME OF NORTH KOREA
There are other strong names in the close vicinity of Kim Jong-un, but it is difficult to guess which of them would ally or rival each other.
One of them is Choe Ryong-hae. He had a career of ups and downs but after a lot of storm he is still a member of the politburo presidential council and also the vice president of the State Affairs Commission. He was replaced as a symbolic president by replacing Kim Yong-nam, who ages last year. So he represents North Korea at international meetings.
OLD SPIES AND RISING POLICIES
Another strong name is Kim Yong-chol, the general who conducts the preparatory contacts of the Trump-Kim summits by meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo many times. He is the head of the United Front, responsible for relations with South Korea, and the head of the country’s main intelligence agency. It seemed a little retracted after the talks with the US were interrupted, but it is not expected to stay that way for a long time.
Kim Jae-ryong is another remarkable actor in North Korean policy. He is chairman of the Council of Ministers, both a member of the State Affairs Commission and an effective position. Little is known about him, but it has been noted that his star has risen in recent years as others have fallen.
It is known that it has a leading role in industry and has been the manager of the region where the country’s most important military industry is located. This perhaps means that it may be closely related to nuclear projects.
Jong Kyong-taek is head of the State Security Agency, which is responsible for the institution investigating and punishing political crimes. They also have responsibilities for the physical protection of leadership. These are very vital positions in terms of maintaining the stability of the system.
The top-ranked generals of the Korean army are also thought to be absolutely effective in a transition period. Currently there are two names in the military’s Politburo: Kim Su-gil and Kim Won-hong. This bureau serves to strengthen political loyalty within the military and is of critical importance during these periods of uncertainty.
Which of these strong political names will clash and which will unite? Since there is no clear political heir to power, will fractions occur?
In the absence of an ideal candidate, Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, could overcome the barriers of the patriarchal system and become the leader of North Korea?
These are very difficult questions to answer yet. But North Korean executive elites will eventually have to consider the stability and integrity of the state, regardless of their position in the continuation of power.
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