Patrimonial Rule Facing its Limits

Conflict between the Chosun Workers’ Party and the military over the allocation of scarce privileges could spill over during the process of Kim Jong Eun’s succession, according to Kim Jin Ha of the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU).

Giving a lecture at a forum hosted by KINU and the National Unification Advisory Council on Friday, Kim noted, “If the restoration of the Party state system is attempted in the North Korean succession process, they will need to pursue a massive purge while allocating limited resources. There’s a high risk that this will lead to division between Party and military.”

Kim went on, “Since keeping loyalty through privilege distribution is the key to patrimonialist-type rule, they need to allocate interests and privileges to new elites and governing authorities. When the distribution of such limited available resources is attempted, a power struggle over privilege distribution can occur.”

“Before the safe landing of Kim Jong Eun’s power and Kim Jong Il’s exit, there will be a limit to Party or state control of the military, which has been systematically and ideologically enlarged under the Military-first political line. Gap and conflict between the generations and the hierarchical order is a potential problem factor, along with the division of benefits,” he concluded.

In particular, Kim believes that if Kim Jong Il exits within 5 years there’s a very high possibility of a power struggle between elites.

He explained, “If Kim Jong Il exits within 5 years, there’s a risk that a power struggle between cadres will get more intense and chaotic,” noting that this is likely because ”considering that Kim Jong Il prepared for the succession after being appointed director of the Guidance Department back in 1974 and officially exercised the power of the successor from 1980 when he was appointed to the Politburo Standing Committee and the Central Military Commission, we can assume that the consolidation process of succession needs at least 5 or 6 years.”

Kim even suggested that any overt elite division like this could arouse resistance within the North Korean populace.

“People’s active power building or political mobilization can seem out of reach in North Korea’s current situation. But the effect of elite division adds potential explosive power,” he explained, noting, “The crisis structure will intensify and dominant power will weaken. And disorganized but widespread public resistance could occur.”