June 08, 2010 13:08
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's brother-in-law Jang Song-taek was appointed vice chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission on Monday, rising to the effective No. 2 post in the Stalinist country.
Jang (64) is apparently a strong supporter of Kim's son Jong-un for the succession. "The promotion of Jang Song-taek to vice chairman just a year and a half after his last appointment and the promotion of his aide Pak Myong-chol to minister of sports is clearly an effort to bolster Jang's power to boost Jong-un," said a North Korean source.
Among the other vice chairmen at the NDC, hardliner O Kuk-ryol is expected to handle South Korean affairs, while Kim Yong-chun is seen overseeing military matters. Ri Yong-mu will oversee munitions production, while Jang will handle internal affairs.
Ryu Dong-ryeol, a researcher at the Police Science Institute in South Korea, said, "Jang Song-taek has strong support in the military since his older brothers Song-woo and Sung-gil have extensive connections." Hwang Jang-yop (74), a former secretary of the North Korean Workers' Party, said in 2003, "If the Kim Jong-il regime collapses, Jang Song-taek is the most likely successor."
South Korean officials also believe that Jang could very well become the next leader of North Korea if Kim Jong-il suddenly dies. Power will inevitably pass to Jang if Jong-un, who is only in his late 20s, fails to wrest control. There are intelligence reports indicating that Jang had governed North Korea as a proxy leader when Kim was bedridden following a massive stroke in August 2008.
Jang is without rivals, especially since Ri Je-gang, the first deputy director of the Workers Party's Organization and Guidance Department, died in a mysterious car accident last week. Ri had been at the center of organizational control in the party for 37 years and there were rumors that he had some kind of involvement in the succession question.
Ri Yong-chol, another senior deputy director of the Organization and Guidance Department, also conveniently died of a heart attack in April. "In the 1970s, defense minister Kim Chang-bong also died in a mysterious car accident while opposing the transfer of power to Kim Jong-il," said on North Korean source. "There is no evidence to prove it, but Ri Je-gang's death could be related to a power struggle."
In 2004, Ri led a purge that led to the ouster of Jang, who was the first deputy director of the Organization and Guidance Department at the time. "It is very strange for Ri to die just five days before Jang Song-taek rises to the No. 2 position," a South Korean intelligence official said.
North Korea's minister of sports, Pak Myong-chol, who was ousted along with Jang back in 2004, was restored to his original position on Monday, leading pundits to conclude that Jang and his clique have returned to power. Pak is the son-in-law of Rikidozan or Yok Do-san, a popular professional wrestler in Japan. Pak's father was a spy dispatched to South Korea but was executed by the South in 1959. This is why Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il favored Pak.
However, others are casting a cautious eye over Jang's return to power. Lee Jo-won, a professor at Chungang University, said, "Kim Jong-il will not tolerate a powerful second-in-command and Jang is aware of this." He has already been ousted from his post twice before.
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