One (or more) question(s) about North Korea

by AiteVer

It’s been trending like crazy that Kim Jong-un, the current Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (aka the North one) has been out of sight for more than a month. The mystery that surrounds the case has sparked mountainous debate and, strangely, all we can do is wait and see the events unfold.

Kim Jong-un came to power in 2011, following the death of his father Kim Jong-il who had earlier succeeded his father Kim Il-sung, in 1994. The latter was the first leader of the independent North Korea and was canonized as the ‘Eternal Leader’ by the country’s constitution. The respect for the Kim lineage derives from this constitutional arrangement, heavily supported by an all-enhancing state-led personality cult. In short, the Supreme Leader has all the decision-making power and his rule is unquestionable. Well, at least that’s how it looks.

1024px-The_statues_of_Kim_Il_Sung_and_Kim_Jong_Il_on_Mansu_Hill_in_Pyongyang_(april_2012)The ancestors (Source)

Following the disappearance of the latest Kim, there are multiple scenarios on what could have happened and what is expected to happen next. It stems from the nature of the North Korean system that at least some elements of these scenarios are only guesswork:

  • The widely popular view is that Kim Jong-un lost political control and was toppled by his government’s officials. This article describes the decision-making system as highly hierarchical and puts the Central Committee in the strongest position while underlining that the Party is not even mentioned in the constitution. As a result, most interactions ‘stem from habit, custom and established pattern’. No wonder most of the speculation involves a close examination of recent appointments in this strict structure.  This other piece provides a table that shows recent movements in the main governmental bodies.
  • Hwang Pyong-so’s fresh (and highly anticipated) promotion as the vice-chairman of the National Defense Commission and his visit last week to South Korea (on Kim Jong-un’s plane with Kim Jong-un’s bodyguards) suggested that he has become the second strongest person in the country.
  • Then, in another account, a former top official claims that the Leader already lost power to the government’s Organization and Guidance Department back in 2013, which was signaled by the public humiliation and execution of Jang Song-taek, a member of the previously untouchable Kim family.
  • The Diplomat writes that it’s likely that Kim Jong-un’s sister Kim Yo-jong temporarily took over the leadership while he recovers from his mysterious illness. By the way, officially it’s been denied that he’s suffering from any illness.

The above are just some of the speculations that circulate in international media. According to an expert cited by Time magazine

“These episodes [like Kim’s absence] reveal as much about us as them—our own assumptions, even obsessions, when it comes to North Korea. We assume North Korea must be on the brink of collapse, so when the young leader suspends his relentless ‘onsite guidance visits’ for a few weeks, we assume he’s been overthrown. Precisely because we have fewer sources of reliable, direct information about North Korea, it pays not to rush to judgment. “

Either way, there is another alluring question related to the issue: what happens if Kim Jong-un is really out? Interestingly, only a few articles delve into this kind of speculation. It is an exciting one. Living with such a huge legacy and their vividly praised ancestry, certainly no Kim could ever be pushed aside in total silence. Or is this a mistaken assumption? In a personalized de facto monarchy the next Supreme Leader will surely have to be another Kim, right?

A key challenge related to this is that there are very few options left on the table: there’s the sister (who is a ‘senior official’ apart from being sister), there’s that guy who lost his chances by visiting Disneyland on a fake passport, too, and the other brother who was deemed unable to rule by his father and is assumed uncontrollable. It would be easier if Kim Jong-un had an adult heir but he is only reported to have a young daughter. Or is it perhaps time for reconciliation and a new era of North Korean politics? Well…


kim family treeThe Kim Family Tree (Source)

The next major event in the DPRK’s life will be held on October 10. The country will celebrate Party Foundation Day, the celebration of the foundation of the DPRK Workers’ Party, and we will – or we will not – see the Supreme Leader cheering with his people.

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