He may have been 69 years old and in failing health, but the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il after 17 years in power still came as a shock to his people.
“There are some really hard ideological realities inside which the successor is going to be forced to operate, regardless of who that successor might eventually turn out to be … This military first path that Kim Jong-il shunted the country onto in 1992 is one that the successor is going to have to proceed along as well.“
– Brian Myers, the director of Dongseo University’s Department of International Studies
In a country where Kim was revered as much as he was vilified by the outside world, the reins of power are already being handed to his son.
The state media urged North Koreans to unite behind Kim Jong-un, calling him the great successor. But little is known about the man, and there are questions over whether he is ready to lead.
It was only last year that Kim Jong-un came out of obscurity and a process of grooming him for succession began. His father made him a general and he took up senior positions in the government and the Korean Workers’ Party.
He may be the chosen one to keep his family dynasty in place and the generals in charge of this enigmatic country’s vast military arsenal may be backing him, but analysts are questioning whether he is really ready to become supreme leader and few doubt there will be some kind of power struggle.
Jong-un will lead his father’s funeral procession next week, symbolising the dynasty’s move into a new generation of leadership, but how smooth will the transition of power be in the world’s most reclusive country?
Inside Story, with presenter Hazem Sika, discusses with guests: Brian Myers, the director of the Department of International Studies at Dongseo University in South Korea; Joseph Cheng, a professor of International Politics at City University, Hong Kong; and Sukhee Han, an associate dean of the Graduate School of International Studies at Yonsei University in South Korea.
“Leadership succession arrangements have been going on for more than two years. We do not pick up any signs of an organised opposition. There is, of course, considerable fear on the part of the elites, including the military, the party cadres and the officials. They are certainly afraid that any major change, any opening up could destabilise the regime. At the moment, the safest step, of course, is to hold onto the legacy of Kim Jong-il, follow his policies, and demonstrate loyalty to the young Kim.”
Joseph Cheng, a professor of International Politics at City University, Hong Kong