North Korea: Who Will Follow Kim Jong Il?
Highlights – “Dear Leader” may have suffered debilitating stroke – Who will succeed Kim Jong Il still remains unknown – Significant political reforms unlikely in the near to mid-term Kim Jong Il, the leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), has not been seen in public since August 14, 2008 fueling speculation that the “Dear Leader” may be gravely ill. After failing to attend a large military parade on September 9, 2008, media speculation – fueled mostly by anonymous South Korean, Chinese and United States intelligence leaks – has skyrocketed as to the whereabouts of the leader of one of the world’s few remaining communist states. Most speculation centers on Kim Jong Il’s alleged recluse lifestyle, excessive indulgence in alcohol and taste for extravagance. Whether King Jong Il is as excessive and eccentric as the media suggests, the fact remains that little substantive information exists on the man, his personality, and his current state of health. What is known with greater certainty is that the man is roughly 66 years old and has been the head of the most secret regime in the world for the past fifteen years. Further, should Kim Jong Il be gravely ill, it is likely that a transition will occur –versus the collapse of the communist state – and will likely occur without the outside world’s awareness or influence. Likely Successors If history is any guide, Kim Jong Il will likely nominate one of his sons as his successor, just as his father, Kim Il Sung, nominated his son as successor in 1973. However, Kim’s eldest son was disgraced by an attempt to visit Tokyo Disneyland under a false passport, his middle son is allegedly too ‘girlish’ for Kim’s taste, and his youngest son is allegedly a mere 22-years old. Further, unlike his own tutelage under his father, rarely have any of the sons appeared in public with Kim. Kim Jong Nam Kim Jong Il’s first marriage was to a famous North Korean movie star named Song Hye-rim. With her, Kim fathered his first son, Kim Jong Nam. As eldest son, it appeared that Jong Nam would have been groomed as his father’s successor a number of years ago. However, in 2001, Jong Nam was arrested in Japan along with two women and a young boy, allegedly his son, attempting to visit Tokyo Disneyland. The event was allegedly viewed critically by Kim and has likely removed Jong Nam as a possible successor. Kim Jong Chol As Kim Sung Il looked unfavorably on his son’s first marriage, the relationship eventually eroded freeing Kim to pursue other women. Shortly after his first son was born, Kim met and later married a famous dancer named Ko Yong Hui. In 1979, Young Hui gave birth to Kim’s second son, Jon Chol, and in 1981 she gave birth to Kim’s third son, Jong Woon. With Jong Nam apparently disgraced and living in China, and Jong Woon the younger, and therefore less likely to succeed, Jong Chol may yet rise to his father’s position of power. However, further complicating matters is the speculation that Kim does not see Jong Chol as sufficiently ‘mannish’ to replace him and as such may have suggested that his youngest, Jong Woon, would make for a better replacement. Chung Sung Taek As Kim Jong Il’s children are both too young and inexperienced to lead, some analysts suspect that the most likely successor – albeit temporarily – would be Chang Sung Taek. Formerly vice-director of Korea’s Worker’s Party, and brother-in-law to Kim, Sung Taek was assumed to be a likely successor to Kim’s rule until