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Kim Jong Il

Kim Jong Il Said to Name Successor as His Health Remains in Question

January 15, 2009 12:29 PM
by Josh Katz
Sources say that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has named his youngest son as successor, as the chairman’s health remains a mystery to the rest of the world.

Kim Jong Il Allegedly Names Successor

A South Korean news report indicated on Thursday that the next leader in North Korea appears to be Jong Un, the youngest of Chairman Kim Jong Il’s three sons. The health of North Korea’s “Dear Leader” has been under the microscope ever since he missed a public appearance at a parade in September, and the various photographs of Kim that have surfaced since then have raised more questions about his health than they have answered. International observers are paying special attention to the succession drama in the secretive Communist country with nuclear capabilities that is also facing economic collapse and potential famine, according to Reuters.

“We believe Chairman Kim Jong-il has picked the son Jong-un he had with third and late wife Ko Yong-hui and given instructions to the Workers’ Party Organisation and Guidance Department around January 8,” Yonhap news agency cited an intelligence source as saying. The news agency also said that the senior officials in party leadership were told to pass on the information.

Jon-un, who is believed to be about 24 years old, was educated in Switzerland and is allegedly considered the favorite son of the leader. According to Reuters, he has been described as an “intelligent and thoughtful man.” Some people suggest that the choice of a young successor could help boost the image of Kim and the government in the eyes of the people: the government often presents Kim as strong and youthful, and a young successor could counteract the effects of a seemingly infirm Dear Leader.

The major obstacle for Jon-un should be his age, as seniority is highly respected in North Korea. South Korean analysts were supposedly surprised by the recent news. However, because North Korea is such a secretive country, some are skeptical that the intelligence report is accurate, the Times of London reports. But if Jon-un is chosen, sources say that members of the current leadership will likely help the young leader govern the country.

Kim’s eldest son, Jong-nam, “is in his late thirties but is believed to have put himself out of the running with a series of blunders that included being deported from Japan while reportedly attempting to visit Tokyo Disneyland with a forged passport,” the Times reports. Jong-chol is the second eldest son, but Kim reputedly sees him as too weak to take power.

Members of the Korea Institute for National Unification claim that the parliamentary election on March 8 should provide much more insight into the country’s future leadership: “if Jong Un is suddenly given a seat on the powerful National Defence Commission, said one KINU official, that will be a sign that he [has] begun the grooming process required before he can succeed his father,” according to the Times.

Background: Kim’s absence leads to reports of stroke

North Korean ruler Kim Jong Il did not attend festivities marking the 60th anniversary of the country’s declaration as an independent state Sept. 9. Kim Yong-Nam, the country’s second-in-command, took his place, directing the televised military parades venerating the state and the absent leader.

Kim’s absence led to wild speculation about his health, including rumors that he had died. Reports suggested that Kim suffered either a stroke or cerebral hemorrage a few weeks before, according to the International Herald Tribune. South Korean media reported that foreign doctors performed brain surgery on Kim after he collapsed on Aug. 15. Kim, who is in his late 60s, has diabetes and heart disease.

International intelligence indicated in October that the North Korean leader was in the hospital but he was probably still actively ruling the country then, said Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso.

“I think intelligence of various nations shares the understanding that while his health is not good, it is unlikely that he can’t make any decisions, and that there will be other moves,” he told a parliament panel, according to Reuters.

In October, Japan’s Fuji Television showed video of a French brain surgeon who said that Kim’s eldest son had sought his services.

The same week, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak made similar remarks as Aso when he said that Kim still held power in his country, according to Reuters.

Earlier in October, North Korean media released photos of Kim appearing in public for the first time in almost two months. But analysts claimed that the photos were old, raising more questions about the leader’s condition.

In late December, North Korean leader Kim apparently attended a concert, marking what would be his first major public outing since his absence at festivities in early September.

Key Player: Kim Jong Il

There are conflicting reports as to the North Korean leader’s date and place of birth. A state-endorsed biography of the “Dear Leader,” writes that Kim Jong Il was born on Feb. 16, 1942, on Mt. Packtul in Korea. However, Western researchers put his date of birth as 1941 and the place of birth as somewhere near Khabarovsk, Siberia. Kim joined the Korean Worker’s Party in 1961 and was chosen as the successor to his father, “Great Leader” Kim Il Sung, in the early 1980s. Kim Jong Il became North Korea’s leader in 1998, four years after his father’s death. His official title is chairman of the National Defense Commission.

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