June 28, 2010 13:12
Key members of the North Korean Workers Party meet in September for the first time in 44 years, the North's official Korean Central News Agency said Saturday. The meeting was called by the Politburo and has raised expectations that leader Kim Jong-il's son Jong-un will be officially named as his father's successor.
According to party regulations, leading members are to meet between regular party meetings, which are held every five years to decide on key policies, but the last time that happened was in 1980, when it appointed Kim Jong-il, then the heir apparent, as member of the standing committee of the Politburo, supreme member of the party and also its military committee, officially anointing him as successor to Kim Il-sung.
"There is a possibility that North Korea will officially announce Kim Jong-un as Kim Jong-il's successor while consolidating the organizational structure of the party, as it did at the meeting in 1980," a South Korean intelligence official said. In its more orthodox communist days, North Korea was governed by the party, but Kim Jong-il strengthened his grip on power through the National Defense Commission, which he heads. Now, he must gain the support of the 3 million party members to ensure the succession.
Ryu Dong-ryeol, a researcher at the Police Science Institute, said, "We need to focus on whether Kim Jong-un and his guardian, Jang Song-taek, vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, are elected as standing committee members of the Political Bureau." During the party meeting in 1980, Kim Jong-il was elected as a member of the standing committee of the Politburo, joining his father Kim Il-sung and defense minister Oh Jin-u. At present, Kim Jong-il is the only standing member of the Politburo, and only three officials are committee members: Kim Yong-ju, Kim Yong-nam and Jon Byong-ho.
"If Kim Jong-un is elected to a ranking party position, control will naturally pass on to him when Kim Jong-il dies," said a South Korean government official. Supporting the likelihood of Kim junior's looming appointment. National Intelligence Service chief Won Sei-hoon told a closed-door National Assembly committee meeting Thursday that a large-scale campaign is under way to hail and praise Jong-un. Citing sources in the North, shortwave station Open Radio for North Korea said Kim Jong-un assumed the role of the North's "leader" during his father's visit to China in May, and 10 million portraits of Jong-un have been produced and are ready for distribution.
But Kim Yong-hyun, a North Korea expert at Dongguk University said it is too soon to announce the succession. "There will be personal changes in the party in preparation for Kim Jong-un's succession, but there appears to be little chance of him emerging center stage and assuming party responsibilities." He says it will not be easy for North Korea to officially announce Jong-un as successor during such tough economic times, compounded by international pressure on the regime due to the sinking of the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan.
Meanwhile, North Korea has virtually completed reshuffles at the National Defense Commission and the Cabinet after a series of meetings since April last year, including the Supreme People's Assembly, Pyongyang's rubber-stamp parliament.
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