Succession speculation as North Korean Parliament meets

Kim Jong-Il`s son Kim Jong-Un may be elected to National Defence Commission.

Updated: Apr 07, 2011, 12:32 PM IST

Seoul: North Korean legislators gathered in Pyongyang on Thursday amid speculation that leader Kim Jong-Il may appoint his son to a post that would make him the nation`s second most powerful man.

As the Supreme People`s Assembly convenes a spring session, attention is focused on whether Kim Jong-Un will be elected to the National Defence Commission — a move that would further solidify the young man`s standing as North Korea`s next leader.

Delegates from around the country began arriving earlier in the week for the session, laying bouquets on Wednesday at a statue of Kim Jong-Il`s mother, Kim Jong Suk, according to North Korea`s official Korean Central News Agency.

The parliamentary meeting is North Korea`s first major national meeting since Kim Jong-Un made his political debut in September by taking on a key leadership post in the ruling Workers` Party. Since then, he has appeared regularly at Kim Jong-Il`s side, his father`s clear choice as heir apparent.

Election on Thursday to the National Defence Commission would be the next step in the path to formally naming him as successor, a process that many believe will be completed next year.

April 2012 is the centenary of the birth of late President Kim Il Sung, a former guerrilla fighter who founded North Korea and passed the mantle of leadership to his son, Kim Jong-Il. Pyongyang has promoted 2012 as a significant milestone in the country`s history.

However, some people question whether Kim Jong-Un will ascend to a major National Defence Commission post only six months after being made a four-star general and assuming senior Workers` Party posts while Kim Jong-Il appears to remain in control.

"For Kim Jong-Il, handing over a considerable amount of power to his son could mean a weakening of his own power base," said Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Seoul`s Dongguk University.

Kim Jong-Il, 69, rules the nation of 24 million as the chairman of the National Defence Commission, but the commission`s No 2 post, first vice chairman, has been vacant since longtime confidant Jo Myong Rok died in November. Jo, a vice marshal of the Korean People`s Army and top party official, held the post for some 12 years.

The National Defence Commission is authorized to formulate key state and military policies, and being named first vice chairman of the NDC would allow Kim Jong-Un to start making his own inspection trips to Army units, factories and farms.

"There is a high possibility that Kim Jong-Un would become the commission`s first vice chairman and assume the No 2 spot in the government as well as in the Workers` Party," said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior fellow at the private Sejong Institute in South Korea who has watched the succession issue closely for years.

The transfer of power under way in North Korea is reminiscent of Kim Jong-Il`s own rise to power. He assumed top posts — including the chairmanship of the NDC at a parliamentary session 18 years ago — one by one in the years before his father`s death due to heart failure.

In addition to winning the defence commission post, Kim Jong-Un will likely be appointed supreme commander of the North`s 1.2 million-member Army and to two other Workers` Party jobs: organisational secretary and member of the political bureau`s Presidium, said Ha Tae-keung of Open Radio for North Korea, a Seoul-based station specialising in North Korean affairs.

"At that point, the succession movement will pretty much be done," he said.

North Korea`s Parliament typically meets once a year to rubber stamp bills vetted by the Workers` Party. Its infrequent sessions are closely watched for clues to changes in the country`s power structure.

Kim Jong-Il used a 2009 legislative meeting to make a triumphant return to the public eye after months out of sight following rumours he had suffered a stroke. Last year, he reshuffled top officials.

Legislators may also approve measures aimed at drawing foreign investment and revitalising North Korea`s economy, analysts said.

Bureau Report