Kim Jong-il and Son's Different Roads to Power

      September 30, 2010 13:39

      North Korean heir Kim Jong-un is likely to follow a widely different path to power from his father Kim Jong-il, reflecting the shifting priorities of the reclusive state. His rise to power is expected to begin in the military, while his father first had to dominate the Workers Party, according to a senior government official.

      In the 1960s and 70s when Kim Jong-il was being trained to become the leader, the Workers Party was the center of power as was the case in other socialist countries. But Kim then embraced the "Songun" or "military-first" ideology in a botched attempt to lead his country out of massive starvation in the 90s that killed more than a million people, leading to the military emerging as the power center.  

      Lee Jo-won, a North Korea expert at Chungang University, said, "During the Kim Il-sung era, a leader needed to gain control over the party, but now he needs to take control of the military first."

      ◆ Different Beginnings

      Kim Jong-il's rise to power began after joining the Workers Party in 1964 and becoming a Central Committee member in 1972. He then rose through the ranks from party section chief, propaganda director and guidance division leader in 1973 until he was finally confirmed as the successor to Kim Il-sung in 1974 by becoming a member of the party's political department. He emerged on the political scene in 1980 after becoming a member of the Standing Committee and Central Military Commission. He rose to the rank of supreme commander of the North Korean military in 1991.

      In contrast, Kim Jong-un has suddenly been promoted to four-start general, and shot to the second-highest position in the military after being given the title of vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, which his father chairs. But Jong-un was never even a junior member of the Politburo. His name was merely included among the 124 people who were chosen to join the Central Committee.

      "Kim Jong-il was just a member of the Central Military Commission in 1980 when he finished being trained to succeed the North Korean throne," said an official at the Unification Ministry. "But Kim Jong-un began his succession as vice chairman of the commission." Kim Jong-il put the finishing touches to his succession to power by writing a report on Kim Il-sung's "Juche" ideology of self reliance. In the case of Jong-un, he may have to write about his father's "Songun" ideology.

      Participants to the extraordinary congress of the North Korean Workers Party applaud at the convention in Pyongyang on Tuesday. From right in front row, Kim Won-hong, head of the People's Army Security Command; Kim Yong-chol, the director of the General Reconnaissance Bureau, who is fingered by South Korean intelligence agents as the man behind the Cheonan sinking; Kim Kyong-hui, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's younger sister; deputy prime ministers Cho Byong-ju and Pak Su-gil /[North] Korean Central News Agency-Yonhap

      ◆ Key Figures in the Central Military Commission

      The Central Military Commission rules the military. A government intelligence official said, "It provides the basis for Kim Jong-un to gain control of the military." The regime apparently revised party regulations to bolster the power of the commission and consolidate Jong-un's control over the military.

      Front-line generals and other key military figures are members of the commission. Ri Yong-ho (68), chief of the North Korean Army's general staff who became a member of the Presidium of the Politburo, is expected to watch over Jong-un with no military experience as also a vice chairman of the commission. Kim Yong-chun (74), North Korea's defense minister, and Kim Jong-gak (69), a vice director of the Army's General Political Bureau, also became members of the commission, who have actual authority to mobilize the armed forces.

      Non-military party officials were also appointed to the commission: Jang Song-taek (64), vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, new party secretary Choe Ryong-hae (60) and Kim Kyong-ok, director of the party's organizational department.

      Baek Seung-joo of the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, said, "It looks like a collection of the key members of the military and Workers' Party. Kim Jong-un will use the Central Military Commission to gain control of the military and try to assume power from his father." There were 16 members of the Central Military Commission in 1980, when the party held its last leadership meeting. Now it has 19. "In the event of Kim Jong-il's sudden death, Kim Jong-un will be able to control the military through the Central Military Commission," said one source familiar with North Korean affairs.

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