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New N.K. leadership appears stable one month in

One month after the death of its longtime strongman Kim Jong-il, North Korea under the new leadership of his youngest son Jong-un appears to be faring well without major hitches.

Although Jong-un, believed to be in his late 20s, has yet to secure top posts in the ruling Workers’ Party and other key organs, the North’s state media have already called him the “sole national leader and supreme military commander.”

Experts say that the stable power succession is attributable partially to the elites who want to preserve the status quo to ensure their vested interests. Others say it represents how the late leader arduously worked to pave the way for the third-generation power succession.

“A partial factor of the stable succession was the vested interests seeking the status quo. But that is not all. One thing we should also pay attention to is Jong-un’s (understated) leadership to control the elites and embrace his people,” said Cheong Seong-chang, senior fellow at the Sejong Institute.

Another key factor helping to stabilize the new leadership was assistance from the so-called guardians of the young, untested leader, experts said.

Among them, Jang Song-thaek, husband of Kim Jong-il’s younger sister Kyong-hui, stood out. Jang, vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, has played a key role in facilitating the hereditary succession process.

Many analysts said that a “collective leadership system” or “collective regent system” is in place for now in the reclusive state as the inexperienced young leader needs advice and help in managing state affairs.

“For now, it is difficult for Jong-un to make important state decisions on his own. So he needs to solicit opinions from others,” said Ahn Chan-il, director of the World North Korea Research Center.

“But perhaps one or two years later ― after he officially takes the helm of the key party and state organs, Jong-un may have strong power. But we need to wait and see how things will unfold.”

Jong-un, the supreme commander of the country, now serves as the vice chairman of the ruling party’s Central Military Commission. He has yet to obtain the party’s top general secretary post.

Cheong of the Sejong Institute pointed out that in the North, whose state media stress the “unitary leadership system,” collective leadership is out of the question.

“It is a far cry from reality if you call it a collective leadership. Collective leadership means a leader cannot make a decision at will. He can make decisions through consultation with others,” he said.

“Under unitary leadership, he can seek advice from others, but that does not have a critical impact on his decision-making process. The North is now calling him a genius in all sectors.”

Cheong added that how Jong-un will carry out his personnel reshuffle will be one of the factors affecting his leadership stability.

By Song Sang-ho
(sshluck@heraldcorp.com)
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