February 16, 2011 08:17
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's son and heir Jong-un has been promoted to vice chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission.
The commission is the militarist country's top decision-making body, and the promotion makes Kim junior the de facto No. 2 in the regime just five months after he was first publicly paraded at a rare party congress in September last year.
The regime appears to be speeding up the handover of power a few days ahead of the ailing leader's 70th birthday.
According to a high-level North Korea source, Kim junior was appointed vice chairman of the commission at the April 25 Cultural Hall in Pyongyang on Feb. 10 in front of thousands of senior officers of the People's Army, the Internal Security Forces, the State Security Department, and the Ministry of Public Security.
His appointment in principle needs to be ratified by the Supreme People's Assembly, which meets in April, but that is a rubberstamp body and ratification a mere formality.
Kim Jong-il became chairman of the commission in 1993, a sign that he was taking power from his father. He was made chairman for the fourth time in 2009. Currently, there are four other chairmen -- members of the old guard O Kuk-ryol, Jang Song-taek, Ri Yong-mu and Kim Yong-chun.
The position of first vice chairman has been vacant since Jo Myong-rok died last year, but another North Korean source said Kim Jong-un is "certain" to get the job sooner or later. "The regime is going through the formalities," the source added.
A reshuffle is also expected, putting elderly members over 70 such as O Kuk-ryol and Ri Yong-mu out to pasture and replacing them with princelings like Choe Ryong-hae and O Chol-san, the source added.
Last year, the regime made Kim junior a regional party representative first, and then gave him the title of a four-star Army general and made him vice chairman of the Workers Party's Central Military Commission to enable him to take full control of the military.
A constitutional amendment of 1993 elevated the NDC, which had been a mere subordinate agency of the People's Commission, to the top decision-making body under the country's "military-first" doctrine.
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