The Korea Herald


NK opens parliament amid attention on leader's son

By 신용배

Published : April 7, 2011 - 09:40

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North Korea was to convene its rubber-stamp parliament Thursday amid keen interest on whether its ailing leader, Kim Jong-il, would promote his heir-apparent son to another top post.

   The session comes amid lingering tensions on the Korean Peninsula over Pyongyang's two deadly attacks on the South last year, which killed a total of 50 South Koreans, mostly soldiers.

   It also comes as former U.S. President Jimmy Carter plans to visit North Korea later this month. It was not immediately clear whether the diplomatic troubleshooter will help ease tensions on the divided peninsula and eventually lead to the resumption of stalled talks on ending North Korea's nuclear weapons programs.

   The U.S. State Department has described the upcoming trip by Carter as "strictly private."

   The North's annual session is the first since Kim named his youngest son, Kim Jong-un, as vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the ruling Worker's Party and a four-star general last year for what could be another hereditary power succession.

   Kim Jong-il took over the country of 24 million people after his father, North Korea founder Kim Il-sung, died in 1994.

   North Korea usually holds a parliamentary session one or two times a year to assess spending and accomplishments of the previous year and to approve the current year's budget.

   The session has drawn keen attention from officials and analysts in South Korea and other regional powers as they try to find any clue on whether the 69-year-old leader will appoint Jong-un as a member of the National Defense Commission in Thursday's session.

   "There is a possibility that there could be a personnel reshuffle in a major organization," South Korea's Unification Minister Hyun In-taek told lawmakers in a parliamentary session on Tuesday, without elaborating. Hyun is in charge of relations with North Korea.

   Cheong Seong-chang, a senior research fellow at the Sejong Institute, a private think tank near Seoul, also said there is a high possibility that Kim Jong-un could be named as the first vice chairman of the National Defense Commission headed by his father.

   The possible "promotion could help expand Jong-un's power base and enhance his standing," Cheong said.

   Last year, Kim Jong-il's brother-in-law, Jang Song-thaek, was appointed as vice chairman of the National Defense Commission in an apparent move to help smooth the power transfer. (Yonhap News)