A walking anachronismNorth Korean leader Kim Jong-il finally made official his long-awaited power succession plan by promoting his third son, Jong-un, to the post of military general yesterday. With that decision, Kim Jong-un became the crown prince of the Kim family dynasty.
Hereditary successions are extremely anachronistic these days. The official title of North Korea is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which put emphasis on the word “republic.”
But the proclamation once again emphasizes the fact that the North Korean people don’t have the right to choose their leader, as power rests firmly in the hands of the Kim family and a small group of the privileged class.
A bigger problem is the instability of North Korea over the long haul. Completing the power succession from Kim Il Sung to his son Kim Jong-il in the 1970s proved to be a long and elaborate process.
The country’s leadership even whipped up an ideology to justify the power transfer and then promoted it to the public.
Kim Jong-il himself spent more than 10 years building up his own leadership by taking major posts in the regime, starting from his position as a low-ranking member of the Workers’ Party. In the process, he consolidated his power base, eliminated his political rivals and expanded his clout.
But it is our judgment that it will be difficult for Jong-un to be recognized as the legitimate supreme leader of North Korea by both his own people and other countries. He emerged as a potential heir just two years ago, immediately after his father had a stroke. It’s been reported that the regime has consistently and secretly made efforts to help him capture the crown by attempting to get the public to idolize him.
But observers say the decision by Kim Jong-il to push his son into the spotlight is coming earlier than expected. Even North Koreans living overseas are raising their eyebrows over yesterday’s decision, which signals that Kim Jong-il’s health is much worse than expected. North Korea, after all, appears to be entrusting its fate to an untested 26-year-old.
No one can predict what will happen with the country down the road. But one thing is obvious: unless it chooses a path leading to drastic reform, it is doomed to perish sooner rather than later. But it’s still unclear whether North Korean leaders will head down a new road.
As we observe all that’s going on in North Korea, we should be on full alert and prepare ourselves for any potential crisis.
But there is an upside to all of this. As long as we brace for the worst-case scenario, we can turn a crisis into an opportunity.