|Jang Song-thaek (Yonhap News)|
A new cadre of loyalists to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is expected to rise after Jang Song-thaek, Kim’s once-powerful uncle, and his associates apparently fell out of the ruler’s favor.
The list of officials, who have recently accompanied the dynastic ruler during his on-site inspections, sheds light on those climbing up the political pecking order of the communist state.
On Nov. 30, Kim led his high-level delegation to a provincial village of Samjiyon.
The delegation included Kim Won-hong, the chief of the Ministry of State Security; Kim Yang-gon, the director of the North Korean United Front Department; Han Gwang-sang, a finance chief of the ruling Workers’ Party.
Also among the delegates were other senior party officials such as Park Tae-song, Hwang Byong-so, Kim Byong-ho, Hong Yong-chil and Ma Won-chun, all of whom are thought to have risen under the Kim Jong-un regime.
Kim Won-hong, despite being a long-serving bureaucrat, has been seen as one whose status has been elevated after the young leader took power upon his father Kim Jong-il’s death in 2011.
As a chief of the top intelligence agency, Kim is seen as having played a crucial role in leveling corruption charges against some senior officials including close associates of Jang Song-thaek.
Seoul officials have said that Pyongyang is currently in the process of purging associates of Jang for corruption charges. They believe two of Jang’s close confidants were purged in November and Jang has since been removed from the public eye.
Han Gwang-sang, in charge of the ruling party’s coffers, was promoted to the current post in early 2012. Hang has been frequently seen accompanying the North Korean leader on visits to factories and other economic scenes.
Park Tae-song is also one of the conspicuous figures who have flanked the North Korean leader on various onsite inspections.
Park accompanied the leader on as many as 46 occasions this year until September, while Jang and Choe Ryong-hae, the director of the powerful General Political Bureau of the military, accompanied the ruler 49 and 112 times, respectively.
Hong Yong-chil, thought to belong to a party division in charge of the mechanical industries, has also been seen following the leader when he visited military bases and factories across the country.
Meanwhile, Kim Yo-jong, the ruler’s younger sister, is expected to play a significant role in keeping the dynastic ruling system should Jang, who has served as a key mentor for the fledgling leader, disappear from the political scene.
Analysts say Yo-jong could also fill the vacuum likely to be left by Kim Kyong-hui, the North Korean leader’s ailing aunt and the husband of Jang Song-thaek.
Speculations abound that the health of Kim Kyong-hui is failing. She is thought to have suffered from alcoholism and depression due to marital discord and the sudden death in 2006 of her daughter Geum-song.
Yo-jong could take some key posts in the ruling party and National Defense Commission to help his brother consolidate power and rule the country. Given that a female sibling would not be seen as a potential challenger to the leader, Yo-jong could emerge as one of the top leaders in the reclusive state, observers said.
The North Korean leader also has his older brother Jong-chol. But observers presume that the possibility is low that Jong-chol would emerge at the center of the power echelon, given that he could form his own faction potentially challenging the leader.
By Song Sang-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org)