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Third generation power succession in North Korea?

North Korea's ruling party is expected to launch a rare top-level meeting very soon. It is widely assumed that leader Kim Jong Il has summoned key party members to promote his son Kim Jong-un as his successor.

Kim Jong Un (left) is believed to be standing next to Kim Jong-il in this picture

Kim Jong Un (left) is believed to be standing next to Kim Jong-il in this picture

The timing of the son’s rise appears to be linked to the state of his father’s apparently declining health, says Werner Pfennig, North Korea expert from Free University of Berlin: " For some time now the photos have not shown the usual picture of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il as a beaming dynamic youthful hero. Rather, he looks a little sickly and weak. As these things are never left to chance in North Korea, we can assume that they are meant to show that the supreme leader will not live eternally and that he is apparently speeding up the question of his succession."

Kim Jong Un remains a mystery

Little is known about the chosen son outside the reclusive country. He is believed to be in his late twenties. The only available photo is a grainy black and white snapshot which shows an eleven year old boy with a striking resemblance to his father. Kim Jong Un was educated in a Swiss school and is supposed to speak some

Kim Jong-il with his family in 1981

Kim Jong-il with his family in 1981

German, English and French. Pfennig says, " He is described as a friendly and pleasant person who settled disputes at school, learned bits of some foreign languages and likes basketball - but nothing of this would really qualify him as a leader of a country. Whether he is accepted by the elite, the army and the party is not known."

His 68-year old father, Kim Jong Il, stressed the need to prepare for the "rising generation", as he put it during his recent visit to the big neighbour and ally China. There he visited sites linked to his own late father and founding president Kim Il Sung. Analysts consider the site visits as a bid to confer legitimacy on another father-to-son succession.

During the upcoming party meeting the younger Kim could be named to a senior post within the party and only later join the party’s top decision making body. In this way he would follow the older Kim’s example, who was also enthroned by his father Kim Il-Sung, Pfennig explains: " At that time the successor was nominated with the old leader still in power. Kim Il Sung withdrew from active politics very slowly, over a period of nearly 20 years. In the current situation the succession period will certainly be shorter. "

Analysts assume that it will be difficult for senior party members to support Kim Jong Un given his youth and political inexperience. Also the army may challenge his authority.

Younger Kim could be more cooperative

Foreign observers however believe that the younger Kim may be more inclined to cooperate internationally than his father because of his schooling and experience abroad. North Korea expert Pfennig expresses his hopes concerning Kim Jong Un’s eventual leadership, " It makes me hope for a more pragmatic policy. Hopefully the new leader will be able to realize that a normalization on the Korean Peninsula would be useful for both countries, North and South. Important resources that are now absorbed by the armed forces could be redirected to the civil society. The whole region could benefit from this. "

Meanwhile, refugees from the North and South Korean activists have gathered near the border to release giant balloons over North Korea. The balloons carry propaganda leaflets reading: "We oppose third generation power succession"

Author: Ana Lehmann

Editor: Grahame Lucas

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