[FOUNTAIN]Transitions, successions and ideologyNorth Korean leader Kim Jong-il celebrated his 62nd birthday on Feb. 16, and this year’s birthday must have been special for him. It came 30 years after he was officially dubbed the successor of Kim Il Sung, his late father and the long-time dictator of North Korea.
In February 1974, Kim Jong-il was 32 and his father was 62. The central committee of the ruling Workers’ Party had chosen Mr. Kim as the official heir who would inherit the regime. Until then, Mr. Kim had to go through a bloody power struggle. The fight started when military leaders challenged the power that the Kims held.
Kim Chang-bong and Heo Bong-hak, who masterminded the attack on the Blue House in 1968, had their own followers, and using their increased influence, they tried to change the balance of power when Kim Yong-ju, Kim Il Sung’s younger brother, was heir apparent.
Kim Jong-il did some intensive intelligence gathering and disclosed their corruption and scheming. They were purged from the party and the power of the ruling family grew stronger.
According to Jeong Chang-hyeon’s book, “A Close Look at Kim Jong-il,” Mr. Kim developed an eye for how to wield power in the course of dealing with potential threats.
The second showdown was an internecine feud; his rival was his uncle. Educated in Moscow, it was both a strength and a weakness of Kim Yong-ju that he was a blind follower of Marxism. Then Hwang Jang-yop came up with the juche ideology of self-reliance, which Kim Jong-il cleverly used as a weapon to attack his uncle.
Kim Il Sung said that he had chosen his son as his heir because his brother was not tough enough; Kim Jong-il’s strength was his strong character.
Now that 30 years have passed, Kim Jong-il is the same age as his father was when Kim Il Sung made him the heir to the Hermit Kingdom. His eldest son, Jong-nam, has turned 33; his other two sons are Jong-chol and Jong-un. Who will be named the new heir?
Kim Jong-il and those competing to become heir must remember that a regime often does not fall because of a shock from outside, but because of a paradox within. Since 1975, a year after Kim Jong-il was given de facto power, the North’s economy has been shrinking. No matter how talented they are in intelligence and propaganda, leaders who don’t put bread on the table are kicked out.
by Chun Young-gi
The writer is deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.