Speculation Growing About Kim Jong-il's Heir

      February 19, 2009 11:40

      The Unification Ministry on Wednesday cast doubt on press reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has chosen his youngest son Jong-un as heir apparent. "No data are available by which we can confirm Kim has been chosen as the heir apparent," the ministry said.

      The Mainichi Shimbun on Tuesday said the General Political Department of the People's Army had distributed a memorandum saying Jong-un (26) was chosen as the heir early last month.

      Such stories are rampant at the moment because Kim Jong-il is said to be unwell and the regime has been making remarks that appear to promote the dynastic succession. Kim Jong-gak, who is in charge of the Army's ideological monitoring, early this month urged, "Let's safeguard the lineage of Mankyongdae and of Mt. Baekdu with rifles." Mangyongdae is the birthplace of Kim Il-sung, and Mt. Baekdu the alleged birthplace of Kim Jong-il.

      The Rodong Sinmun, the organ of the Central Committee of the [North]Korean Workers' Party, raised the question of hereditary succession in an editorial on Monday, the 67th birthday of Kim Jong-il. "The bright future of the juche (self-reliance) revolution lies in succeeding to the Baekdu blood." Lee Ki-dong, a senior researcher at the Institute of National Security Strategy, said, "The regime wants to give the people the impression that a power structure passed from Kim Il-sung to Kim Jong-il and then to his son is natural."

      Machinations are said to be going on behind the scenes. A North Korean refugee in the South dismissed the Jong-un story since the 23-year old has little experience in the party and the military. "It must have been fabricated by North Korean smugglers who make money selling information in China," he speculated.

      Kim Jong-il's first son Jong-nam emerged as the likely heir apparent in 1998, when he was rumored to have been made a member of the Supreme People's Assembly. But he fell out of favor when he was deported from Japan in 2001 for attempted entry with a forged passport. Second son Jong-chol (28) was mentioned as the likely heir apparent until 2004, when his mother Ko Young-hee died. He is said in recent years to be too feeble-minded to be a leader.

      Kim Il-sung designated Jong-il his heir in 1972, when he was 60. It took Seoul until October 1980 to confirm this, when a Workers Party convention formally nominated Jong-il as a commissioner of its central committee. Kim Jong-il is 67 years this year and is apparently unwell. "He must be impatient about choosing his heir," said an intelligence official.

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