Since reports began surfacing that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il suffered a stroke in August, speculation has run rampant as to who might succeed him. Both of his elder sons have been seen as prime contenders for the top job, and both have since fallen out of favour. Now the youngest son of “Dear Leader” has been appointed to the Defence Commission, and all eyes are on Kim Jong Un.
South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported this week that Jong Un, who is in his mid-20s, was recently given a job at what is considered North Korea’s most important government office. Not much is known about Jong Un (including his exact age), except that he has little political experience, was educated in Switzerland, likes basketball, admires Jean-Claude Van Damme and is said to look and act like his father.
Previously, the Korean leader’s 37-year-old eldest son, Kim Jong Nam, was the favourite to take over. But he was disgraced when he was caught using a fake Dominican passport to get into Tokyo’s Disneyland in 2001, and subsequently told reporters that he had “no interest” in taking on the leadership job.
Political analysts then shifted their attention to Kim’s second son, Kim Jong Chol, who is 27. But his succession was called into question when a former chef in the Kim household’s kitchen revealed in a memoir that the leader considers his second son “girlish.” Reports from South Korea and Japan also say that Jong Chol is chronically ill.
That leaves Jong Un as the most likely to take over—at least for now. But “Jong Il’s history has been to keep everyone off balance,” warns John Ishiyama, a political science professor at the University of North Texas. “This could just be another effort to consolidate power by choosing the person least likely to challenge him.”