North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s younger sister appears to have made her debut on the political stage in what may be an attempt by the Kim family to cement its power.
Kim Yo-jong, 26, accompanied her brother on his trip to a polling station in Pyongyang for an election of the Supreme People’s Assembly on Sunday, state media reported.
She was described as a “responsible worker of the (ruling Workers’) Party’s central committee,” alongside Kim Kyong-ok and Hwang Pyong-so, deputy directors in the party’s organization guidance department.
|Kim Yo-jong (circled) is seen at Kim Il-sung University of Politics in Pyongyang on Sunday. (Yonhap)|
The move was likely to help consolidate Kim Jong-un’s grip in the wake of the December execution of his powerful uncle, Jang Song-thaek, which reignited concerns of a fierce power struggle and instability within the 2-year-old regime.
“We believe this was the first time that she appeared in a state media report by name,” Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Eui-do told a news briefing. “There has not been much official activity by her so far.”
Kim Jong-un, meanwhile, was elected as a delegate to the rubber-stamp parliament, pulling in “100 percent” of the vote, the official Korean Central News Agency said Monday. His constituency was Mount Baekdusan, the highest peak on the peninsula, which Pyongyang claims as the sacred birthplace of its late leaders.
Among the participants in the election were some of Jang’s old associates and friends thought to have been purged or seen their power withered, including United Front Department Director Kim Yang-gon and People’s Security Minister Choe Pu-il. But party secretary Mun Kyong-dok was absent, as was Kim Kyong-hui, Kim Jong-un’s aged, ailing aunt and the late Jang’s wife. Howeve, she was nominated to a steering committee for the funeral of Kim Kuk-thae, the former chairman of the party’s control commission, shortly after her husband’s downfall.
Kim Yo-jong is the youngest daughter of late strongman Kim Jong-il and was born to Ko Yong-hui, his third wife and the mother of the incumbent ruler.
TV footage showed her wearing a ponytail and a black skirt suit, walking behind her brother and casting her ballot at Kim Il-sung University of Politics.
Though her title was not made public, experts predict that Kim Yo-jong could be a deputy director, which is equivalent to vice minister in the South. She had reportedly been in charge of public events at an executive office within the party.
Speculation has risen that the young leader may be grooming his sister to take a supporting role in place of Kim Kyong-hui, who took up a deputy director position at age 30 in 1976 and eventually become a four-star general and party secretary.
“As part of the Baekdu bloodline, Kim Yo-jong would inevitably take up the role Kim Kyong-hui played during the Kim Jong-il era, with her formal debut this time,” said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korean studies professor at Dongguk University in Seoul.
“She is likely to belong to the party’s organization guidance department or secretariat office.”
Kim Yo-jong was previously seen at the funeral of her late father in December 2011, standing in the front row beside her brother and other core military and party officials, even though she was not listed as a funeral committee member. She has since appeared at some onsite inspections and other outings alongside her brother.
Last July, she gained traction for appearing footloose and fancy-free at the opening ceremony of the Rungna People’s Pleasure Ground, a theme park in Pyongyang. State television showed her walking around alone, jumping, even laughing while other officials including Jang and Kim Kyong-hui stood erect and stiff.
The siblings, together with their elder brother Jong-chol, were believed to have had studied together in Bern, Switzerland, from 1996 to 2000. On her return home, she reportedly attended Kim Il-sung Military University, as did her older brothers.
By Shin Hyon-hee (firstname.lastname@example.org