North’s young leader has an elderly inner circle

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North’s young leader has an elderly inner circle

According to analysis by Joong-Ang Ilbo, the average age of Kim Jong-un’s inner circle will be older than his father’s, raising the question of how well an inexperienced leader in his late 20s will work with subordinates in their 70s.

The JoongAng Ilbo analyzed the audience of the departed leader’s two-day funeral service and who stood close to Kim Jong-un.

On Wednesday’s outdoor march, there were 28 officials standing with Kim Jong-un on the balcony of the Kumsusan Memorial Palace Square. On the second day, only 16 officials watched the service with the new leaders on the balcony of the Hana Music Information Center.

Analysts think the initial group of 28 officials were close to the late father, and the second day’s 16 officials constitute Kim Jong-un’s cadre. On that day he was hailed as North Korea’s “supreme leader”.

Most of the 16 officials seen on the second day were among the 28 seen on the first.

However, the average age of the 16 officials - 78.6 years - was 4.4 years older than that of the 28. Younger officials were excluded from the Thursday group.

“In a third-generation-succession, you don’t get big changes in the inner circle,” said Jeong Chang-hyeon, a professor of liberal arts at Kookmin University. “But the actual core members could be a little bit different from the people on the balcony. Those elderly officials will possibly play protector for Kim Jong-un while his uncle Jang Song-thaek and other middle-aged people actually lead national affairs.”

Experts also focused on Kim Ki-nam, a Workers’ Party secretary who is known for his dedication to North Korea’s cult of personality for Kim Jong-il. He also declared in a speech Thursday, “Let’s succeed the ideology and achievements of Comrade Kim Jong-il by following Comrade Kim Jong-un’s leadership.” That implies the party has decided to make Kim Jong-un the party’s General Secretary.

If so, he will automatically become Chairman of the party’s Central Military Committee. If he is made Chairman of the National Defense Commission, he will also become Supreme Commander, according to North Korea’s constitution.

Given the fact that North Korea is already calling Kim Jong-un “Our Supreme Commander,” he is expected to take his father’s posts at an upcoming parliamentary meeting.

However, Jeon Hyeon-jun, senior researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification, speculated that Kim Jong-un could delay taking those posts and instead undergo a three-year mourning period, as did his father when Kim Il Sung died - an act very much in the Confucian tradition.

“North Korea still has conventions of Korea’s old feudal society,” Jeon said. “As Kim Jong-un’s political status has been consolidated, he could take some time to emphasize his political image as a good boy of Kim Jong-il and delay his inauguration.”


By Jeong Yong-soo, Kim Hee-jin [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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