North Korean leader Kim Jong-il appears to have stepped up a campaign to pave his son Jong-un's way for the succession, the New York Times reported last month. Until late last year, Jong-un was rarely mentioned by name, but sources in North Korea say since January Kim junior has been publicized to the entire population beginning with the military.
Pyongyang in January launched a major publicity campaign on behalf of Kim Jong-un for civilian security units defending the de-militarized zone. The slogan is: "Young general Comrade Kim Jong-un is our leader, upholding the succession of the generations." A song has been written that now everyone is meant to learn by heart.
The campaign has expanded to regional administrative cadres and ordinary military units since February and the entire population since March. A senior official said Kim Jong-un may be presented formally in an October ceremony marking the anniversary of the Workers' Party, adding that the succession campaign is progressing "faster than expected."
The problem is public discontent since a botched currency reform late last year sent prices skyrocketing and aggravated a food crisis. The publicity campaign could provoke similar indignation. Premier Kim Yong-il apologized in an early March meeting of senior members of the Pyongyang municipal committee. "Nothing was wrong with the currency reform itself, but confusion has ensued due to errors committed by the administrative agencies," he said. He also called on them to persevere a little longer as efforts were being made to increase food imports.
Nonetheless, starving families are said to have swarmed local party headquarters and protested, and even local party officials are openly complaining. Provincial party officials in Chongjn, North Hamgyong Province, and Hamhung, South Hamgyong Province, effectively stopped working, telling party headquarters there is nothing they can do if there is nothing to eat.
With rumors spreading that Kim Jong-un led an unpopular "100-day struggle" and "150-day struggle" that pressed people into service on the farms and even the currency reform, public disaffection is reaching critical mass.
A recent North Korean defector said people are openly calling Kim Jong-un "an immature little bastard" who is "more savage than his father." Anti-government sentiment prevails among college students in Pyongyang and other major cities, who say the dynastic succession is a feudal practice and a betrayal of socialism.
Kim junior has become a sort of lightning rod for discontent, and earlier hopes for change seem to have been abandoned, the defector said. The current campaign for Kim Jong-un's succession looks hasty and slapdash compared to the long years it took to establish Kim Jong-il as his father's heir, a senior North Korean defector said.
But given Kim senior's bad health, the issue apparently cannot be delayed further. The senior defector added the North's "control tower" seems to have crumbled. Instead of mapping out a succession campaign taking public opinion in account, the process is so awkward that it looks almost like a deliberate attempt to bungle it.