Is Kim Jong Il Ready to Name a Successor?

By Katherine Walczak, Center for Strategic Research

Kim Jong Il with soldiers

Kim Jong Il

As rumors abound over Kim Jong Il’s failing health, the question as to who will take his place goes unanswered. Believed to have suffered a stroke two years ago, and looking increasing worse when pictured on a recent trip to China, Kim’s health will pose a major concern for North Korea’s future. His deteriorating health was, reportedly, the reason the Workers Party Congress planned for September 15 was postponed, which has been rescheduled for today.

North Korea’s Workers Party Congress has not been held since 1980, where Kim officially accepted his position as the leader of North Korea, meaning this meeting will likely address some important concerns about North Korea’s future. And it is believed that Kim will use this congress to name his son, Kim Jong-un, as his successor.

Kim has three sons, from two different women, all of whom have been considered as possible replacements for their father. Kim’s oldest son, Kim Jong-nam, was the likely choice to be the next leader until he fell from favor in May 2001 after being arrested at the Tokyo International Airport. Kim’s next son, Kim Jong-chul, originally thought to have been Kim’s next choice, has been reportedly overlooked for his younger brother. This leaves the position to Kim’s youngest son, Kim Jong-un.

Very little is known about Kim Jong-un. He’s thought to be 26-28 years old, he may or may not have attended school in Switzerland, and few photos are known to exist of him. Kim Jong-un also might face challenges from his brothers for his position or for positions of power within the government. If Kim Jong-un is chosen, his uncle, Jang Song Taek, will likely take up a regent role to guide the young leader. Kim Jong-un is said to be most like his father in temperament, yet many are unsure whether he will follow in his father’s footsteps as a leader.

North Korea’s future is uncertain, yet there are hopes that today’s Congress will address some of these issues. But even should Kim name a successor, questions still remain over who will be named and what type of leader they will be. Given that the last congress was postponed, there is no guarantee the congress will even be held today. There seem to be plans in the making for the future of North Korea, but these plans are shaky at best, leaving the rest of the world in the dark about what’s to come in North Korea.

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Filed under National Security Reform, Regional Studies, Strategic Studies

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