The news that Kim Ok (44), Kim Jong Il’s fourth wife, has started an preparatory work to nominate Kim Jong Il’s third son Jong Woon (24) as successor has been generating interest.
Yonhap News cited several North Korean sources, reporting on the 1st, “Kim Ok reportedly has accelerated the preparatory work to nominate the third son Jong Woon as a successor with the assistance of Lee Jeh Gang, the First Vice Director of the Workers’ Party Guidance Department, who is a close acquaintance.”
The sources gave the following analysis, “Kim Ok, who is in her mid-40s, probably has the concern that if the eldest Kim Jong Nam (37) is selected as a successor, she can be pushed out of power due to the relative lack of a difference in their age. She probably intends to be a regent in North Korea through his son Jong Woon.”
The sources also observed, “Kim Ok, as Kim Jong Il’s confidante, has especially received a lot of love and has exercised strong power such as commanding North Korea’s high-level figures. If her successor project continues as she intends, it is possible that Kim Jong Il will ultimately accommodate her.”
Related to this, Center for Naval Analyses (CAN) Corporation’s analyst Ken Gause had pointed out in March that Kim Ok is deeply involved in running Kim Jong Il’s personal organizations including Department 39 (which handles Kim Jong Il’s slush funds), thus she has both authority and the means to influence the decision of Kim Jong Il’s successor in the case of an accident.
Chun Hyun Jun, a researcher for the Korea Institute for National Unification analyzed on the 1st in a phone conversation with the Daily NK, “As of yet, there does not seem to be any official movement related to the successor issue within North Korea. The most recent report also seems to be one of the diverse scenarios proposed, whether the third-generation transmission of rule or a collective unitary leadership is selected, regarding the successor issue.”
Researcher Chun also observed, “While Kim Ok’s influence is well-known, the feasibility of a third-generation transmission by heredity can realistically be evaluated as low.”
Among experts, the position has been proposed that Kim Ok is pushing Kim Jong Il’s second son Jong Cheol (27) as the successor.
According to the report composed by the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses at the request of the U.S. government, “Kim Ok is maintaining friendly relations with Lee Jeh Gang, the First Vice Director of the Guidance Department and the second son Jong Cheol. The timing of Kim Ok attempting to increase her political influence corresponds to similar efforts by Kim Jong Cheol and Lee Jeh Gang.”
Experts who have participated in the report selected Kim Jong Cheol (8 people or 36.4%) as the likely successor while 31.8% (7) chose Kim Jong Nam and 22.7% (5) picked out Jang Sung Taek. This report did not deem the prospect of Kim Jong Woon becoming the successor as high, saying, “He has not had the opportunity yet to secure his power base.”
Additionally, the story has been circulating that Kim Jong Il’s younger sister Kim Kyung Hee, who is also known as one of the figures in Kim Jong Il’s power circle, supports the eldest Jong Nam.
One newspaper in Japan reported that wiretapping Kim Kyung Hee’s calls revealed that Kim Jong Nam plainly disclosed his grievances of his father. In addition, Kim Jong Nam was reportedly involved in the effort to restrain Kim Jong Il by approaching Kim Kyung Hee’s husband Jang Sung Taek.
However, among the experts on North Korea, the rule of the three Kim generations no longer holds any justification and even among the power elite, the voices of opposition have been high. The observation has been proposed that the introduction of collective unitary leadership based on the military is being prepared by Kim Jong Il.