Kim’s absence fuels rumors on his grip on power
Kim Jong-un’s prolonged absence from public view, including skipping a session of parliament, has raised questions as to whether his disappearance has less to do with his health and more to do with his grip on power in nuclear-armed North Korea.
Kim has not been seen in public since Sept. 3, an unusual stretch in a country where the media provides a steady stream of propaganda images featuring the supreme leader overseeing everything from missile launches to grain harvests.
While official media reports say Kim is suffering “discomfort,” his seclusion has sparked discussion about who is in charge of a country that boasts 1.2 million troops and has threatened to turn Seoul into a “sea of fire.”
Having missed a session of the Supreme People’s Assembly last month, attention has turned to today’s anniversary celebration of the founding of the ruling Workers’ Party and whether Kim, who walked with a limp in the most-recent footage provided, will show up.
The surprise visit by Vice Marshal Hwang Pyong-so to the closing of the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea on Oct. 4, fanned social media posts that Kim’s top military official may be in charge, a reading challenged by one former intelligence official.
“The senior North Korean officials’ recent visit is a clear sign Kim is firmly in power,” said Kim Jung-bong, who served in South Korea’s National Intelligence Service and now teaches political science at Hanzhong University.
“It’s Kim himself that sent those senior officials,” he said. “There is nothing yet that indicates his power has been compromised.”
A documentary aired last month on state television showed an overweight Kim limping at a public appearance and said he was suffering from “discomfort.” South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported on Sept. 30 that Kim had been hospitalized after surgery on both ankles to address an injury sustained during field supervisions in June.
“He could be suffering from anything from gout to a bone fracture in his foot,” said Jun Jae Bum, a professor at Hanyang University Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases. “But none of them would be ailments serious enough to incapacitate him from making political decisions.”
Kim, believed to be in his early 30s, has consolidated his power since the death of his father Kim Jong-il in December 2011. He’s made a series of high-level purges, including the removal in 2012 of Chief of General Staff Ri Yong-ho, who guided him in the succession process. Bloomberg
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