Kim Jong-Un in power - for now

2011-12-19 14:25

Seoul - The death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il has raised fears of turbulence in the nuclear-armed nation but observers said a dynastic succession is underway and that strife is unlikely for the time being.

Analysts said Monday's announcements on North Korean state media, which revealed Kim had died two days previously at age 69, made it clear his youngest son and heir apparent Kim Jong-Un is firmly in power - at least for now.

But some North Korea-watchers cautioned of risks ahead if the young and inexperienced Jong-Un feels the need to prove his military mettle by deploying the kind of aggressive tactics that helped keep his father in power.

‘Already firmly in power’

State media in Pyongyang have urged people to rally round the leadership of Jong-Un, who is aged in his late 20s, with the state news agency dubbing him the "great successor".

"The Kim Jong-Un era has already started," said Paik Hak-Soon of Seoul's Sejong Institute think-tank.

"This clearly indicates that Jong-Un is already firmly in power, and all key officials under Kim Jong-Il have decided for the past two days since Kim's death to support Jong-Un as the new leader," he added.

"The North's top guys have already sorted out everything, and the regime seems to be stable under the new leadership. I don't expect any major turbulence or power struggle within the regime in the foreseeable future."

Little is known about the young man now expected to extend the Kim dynasty into a third generation, other than that he attended a Swiss school and reportedly likes skiing and Hollywood tough guy Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Kim Jong-Un had little public profile until his father suffered a stroke in 2008, forcing succession plans to be accelerated.

Military ‘will unite around Kim Jong-Un’

In September 2010 the son was handed senior ruling party posts and made a four-star general, despite his lack of any military experience. Since then, he has been constantly at his father's side.

Kim Jong-Il's powerful brother-in-law Jang Song-Thaek may act as the son's mentor as he finds his feet, say analysts who note that North Korea's elites have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

"For a while the military and Kim's family will try to uphold Kim Jong-Un as their leader and unite around him," said Baek Seung-Joo of the Korea Institute for Defence Analyses, adding that the North had fully prepared for Kim's death.

But the new leader, who comes into the job with a host of challenges including severe food shortages in a nation which has seen deadly famine in the past, is not expected to take on an ambitious agenda.

A show of power

"Kim Jong-Un is not expected to seek any drastic policy change while trying to cement his leadership. He will try to share power or set up a strategic alliance with top military leaders," Baek said.

"A power struggle is possible in the future, creating an obstacle to his succession because Jong-Un did not secure full public support," he said, adding that the lack of popular backing made him vulnerable.

Relations with South Korea have been icy since two deadly border incidents blamed on the North last year.

Michael Green, of the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said there was a risk of similar confrontations ahead.

"The danger now is that Kim Jong-Un feels under pressure to demonstrate his legitimacy with nuclear tests or military provocations," Green said.

But Green said he expected calm for the time being at least, as North Korea focuses on mourning.

  • Thando - 2011-12-19 14:54

    Hopefully he will reject communism and China , and embrace democracy and better relations with South Korea and Japan

      Heiku - 2011-12-19 15:01

      The people with real power at the moment are probably the army generals and they wont let that happen. All speculation of coarse since nobody knows wtf is going on in there.

      valkyriaza - 2011-12-19 15:53

      I applaud your optimism, but this guy's family has benefited tremendously from the current regime. Naturally his reasoning will be along the lines of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

      Piet - 2011-12-20 01:08

      Fat chance of that happening I'm afraid. Totalitarian dictatorships don't like democracy, as that tends to kick them out, put them in jail, and sometimes kills them.

  • ben.nel2 - 2011-12-19 15:11

    Cly me a liver

  • ivan.coetzee2 - 2011-12-19 16:10

    Another dicktator bites the dust! How awesome it that, slowly getting rid of the buggers, now if we can just get rid of that rabbid dog Moegoe-gabe!

      Dirk - 2011-12-19 18:31

      Believe it or not, Mugabe/ Zim is not the exception in Africa- there are many even worse. If SAs dont come to realise that soon, very unpleasant surprises, awaits them.

  • PaasHaas - 2011-12-19 16:31

    "a dynastic succession is underway" - and the country is officially known as the Peoples DEMOCRATIC Republic of Korea, why?

      Piet - 2011-12-20 00:53

      Totalitarian and dictatorial states like to put the words "people" and "democratic" in their titles. For instance China is the "people's republic of China". I don't really know why this is so but it is. So if SA starts to be called the "Peoples Democratic Republic of South Africa" you should really start to pack your bags.

  • toibry - 2011-12-19 21:28

    God is the one who can do and prove better.

  • Piet - 2011-12-20 00:58

    The previous guy, that has been dead for some decades, is known as the "Great Leader", and the guy that just died the "Dear Leader", (Not Great but Dear??)so I wonder what the new guy will be called. Maybe the Fat Leader.

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