North Korea confirmed yesterday that a major communist party convention would be held next week, as observers speculated that the secretive regime’s aging leader was ready to give his son an important position to pave the way for his succession.
Now 68, and reportedly in poor health two years after suffering a stroke, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is believed to be bolstering his plan to take the Kim dynasty into a third generation by appointing his heir to top party posts at the Workers’ Party convention.
Delegates will meet on Wednesday next week to elect new party leaders, the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported yesterday in a dispatch from Pyongyang.
The report did not explain why the meeting, initially set for “early September,” had been postponed. North Korea has been struggling to cope with devastating flooding and a typhoon that killed dozens of people and destroyed roads, railways and homes earlier this month, state media reported.
Delegates across the country were appointed “against the background of a high-pitched drive for effecting a new great revolutionary surge now under way on all fronts for building a thriving nation with the historic conference,” the KCNA report said.
State media have been building up the rhetoric ahead of the conference, the first major Workers’ Party gathering since the landmark 1980 congress where Kim, then 38, made his political debut, in an appearance seen as confirmation that he would eventually succeed his father, North Korea founder Kim Il-sung.
Kim Jong-il took over in 1994 when his father died of heart failure in what was communism’s first hereditary transfer of power.
Now, he seems to be prepping his third and youngest son, Kim Jong-un, for a similar transition.
The announcement yesterday could mean that North Korea ended internal debate and “reached a final conclusion” on the succession process, said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at Seoul-based University of North Korean Studies.
“I believe North Korea has decided to give the successor an official title, but not to make it public to the outside world,” Yang said.
Speculation on the North’s succession has intensified since Kim Jong-il suffered a reported stroke in 2008, sparking concerns about instability in the nuclear-armed country if he were to die without anointing a successor. Kim Jong-il is also said to be suffering from diabetes and a kidney ailment.
Little is known about the son widely believed to be his father’s favorite. Kim Jong-un, said to be in his late 20s and schooled in Switzerland, has never been mentioned in state media and there are no confirmed photos of him as an adult.
South Korean intelligence officers believe Pyongyang has launched a propaganda campaign promoting the son, including songs and poems praising the junior Kim. North Korean soldiers and workers reportedly pledged allegiance to the son on his birthday in January.