Daily US Times: Rumour and speculation about the health of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un health may amount to nothing, but questions about who might succeed him in the short or long term will always be there.
Ever since its founding by Kim Il-sung in 1948, a male member of the Kim family has been in charge of North Korea. The mythology of this family runs deep throughout society.
Propaganda about its greateness begins for citizens even before they can even read and write. Pre-schoolers sing a song called “I want to see our leader Kim Jong-un.”
So it is hard to imagine North Korea without this political and symbolic figure at the top? How would elites organise themselves, as well as society as a whole?
The answer is, nobody in the country ever faced a situation like this and it is out of their imagination as well.
There has always been a Kim…
When Kim Jong-un was being prepared for power, they even began using the term “Paektu Bloodline” to help legitimise his rule. Paektu is the mythologised and sacred mountain where Kim Jong-il was reportedly born and Kim Il-sung is said to have waged guerrilla war.
At the ideological heart of the country, there has always been a Kim.
What would North Korea be like without such an heir? The 36-year-old Kim Jong-un is believed to have children – but they are far too young to lead the country. It is thought that the North Korean leader has three children, the oldest one’s age is 10 and the youngest 3.
Kim himself was considered young when he took power – he was just twenty seven.
It is likely that as in Vietnam, some sort of group leadership would emerge that leans heavily on the founder’s teachings and legitimacy to boost their own standing.
Observers can track who holds certain key positions and can follow open-source intelligence and news about important institutions, but they can’t really tell how factions are developing.
Sometimes vice or deputy directors of an institution wield more real power than the titular heads. This makes all predictions extremely
The three remaining Kims
If Kim Jong-un were to disappear, there are three Kims who could potentially be involved in the political make-up of North Korea. They all face limitations in carrying on family rule.
The first is Kim Yo-jong, Kim Jong-un’s younger sister. She had interest in politics from a young age and said to have been a favorite of her father who commented on her precocity. Her manner is mild, efficient and one suspects rather observant. Much has been made of her closeness to her brother.
At the Hanoi Trump-Kim summit, she was pictured peeking out from behind corners as her brother posed for statesman-like photos and their first summit in Singapore, she was famously on hand to pass him a pen to sign the agreement.
North Korea is an extremely male state, and she is a woman. This makes it hard to imagine her occupying the top position in such a deeply patriarchal country.
The second is Kim Jong-un’s older brother Kim Jong-chul. But he has never appeared interested in power and politics. He could be a symbolic link to the Kim family at most: perhaps made the head of a foundation and put forward to read the odd speech.
The final one if Kim Jong-il’s half-brother Kim Pyong-il. His mother – Kim Jong-il’s stepmother – was angling to have him become Kim Il-sung’s successor. Kim Pyong-il was sent to Europe in 1979, and there he has held various ambassadorships. He returned to North Korea only last year. This means it is very unlikely he has the network to be a central player in elite politics in Pyongyang.