Seoul, S Korea: The youngest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il became a parliament member last year, another sign he is being groomed to succeed his father, South Korean news reports said Tuesday.
It is widely believed that the 68-year-old Kim plans to hand power at some point to third son Kim Jong Un, though little is known about him. Speculation about the North's succession plans has intensified since the senior Kim reportedly had a stroke in 2008.
He has led North Korea since 1994 upon his father's death in a hereditary succession — the first in the communist world — that was in the works for years.
Kim Jong Un reportedly ran for a parliamentary seat in elections in March last year that were closely watched for any signs of a power shift in the secretive North. His name, however, was not on the list of Supreme People's Assembly legislators, sparking speculation he may not have run in the polls or used an alias.
On Tuesday, the mass-circulation Dong-a Ilbo newspaper quoted a high-level Western source knowledgeable about the North as saying that Kim was elected in the rubber-stamp legislature's Constituency No. 216. The source, who was not otherwise identified, said he obtained the information from unidentified North Korean figures about two months after the vote, according to the newspaper.
Another national daily — the JoongAng Ilbo — carried a similar report, saying the comments would confirm that Kim has formally entered government service after being tapped as the North's next leader.
The paper also said the constituency No. 216 has a special meaning in North Korea as Kim Jong Il's birthday falls on Feb. 16. It said the Western source spoke during a meeting Monday with journalists in Seoul.
A spokesman at South Korea's main spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, said his organization believes there is a low probability the younger Kim became a member of parliament. The spokesman declined to elaborate on the agency's opinion. He spoke on condition of anonymity, citing agency policy.
Other newspapers as well as Yonhap news agency and YTN television carried similar reports. They highlight the intense interest in South Korea in the succession.
North Korean leaders hold absolute power in the impoverished country, which has active nuclear and missile programs and regularly threatens to destroy rival South Korea. National Intelligence Service chief Won Sei-hoon told legislators last week that North Korea has launched a propaganda campaign aimed at making its 24 million people adore Kim Jong Un, such as releasing songs and poems praising him, according to lawmakers who attended the meeting.
On Saturday, North Korea said it will hold a rare Workers' Party conference in September to choose new top leaders, a move experts say may be aimed at giving Kim Jong Un a top party job.
Tension has been high on the Korean peninsula over the deadly sinking of a South Korean warship in March that the South blames on Pyongyang. Seoul has asked the U.N. Security Council to punish Pyongyang, which flatly denies it launched any attack and warns any punishment would trigger war.
First Published: Tuesday, June 29, 2010, 10:53