Kim Jong-un, youngest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il
By Kim Young-jin
North Korea on Monday heralded Kim Jong-il’s youngest son, Kim Jong-un, as its “great successor” after the late dictator’s death was announced earlier in the day, setting major concerns about the future of the nuclear-armed regime.
The senior Kim, who died at 69 from a heart attack, had reportedly been grooming his twenty-something son to carry on his militarist “juche” ideology since suffering a stroke in 2008.
"Standing in the van of the Korean revolution at present is Kim Jong-un, great successor to the revolutionary cause of juche and outstanding leader of our party, army and people," AFP quoted the North’s official news agency as saying.
Despite the bluster experts here say a period of volatile uncertainty awaits as the world watches to see if the young man and his inner circle can manage to secure power.
The succession process has been in high gear since Kim was endowed with high military and political titles in September 2010. Since then, he has accompanied his father on military and economic site visits while apparently learning statecraft.
But unlike Kim Jong-il, who emerged as heir in 1980 but didn’t take power until his own father died in 1994, the junior Kim has had precious little time to consolidate power.
“Absolutely anything could happen,” said Hahm Chai-bong, the director of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul. “What happens next depends on how far the succession plan has progressed, how much Kim Jong-un has secured a power base.”
Analysts have long painted nightmare scenarios if Jong-un had failed to burnish his reputation enough among the military and political elite before his father died. This includes military coups, riots, massacres and a mass exodus of refugees in a country believed to have secret nuclear facilities and weapons.
Hahm said one destabilizing scenario that could occur was top- or mid-level officials “fearing they are on the wrong side of a power struggle” defecting en mass to China, the South or even the United States.
One troubling sign that could show Jong-un’s inexperience was the fact that his older brother Kim Jong-nam had publically questioned the hereditary succession plan.
Jong-nam, who lives in Macau and other places, was reportedly passed over for the hereditary transfer. His son, Kim Han-sol has posted comments on social media sites saying he prefers democracy to communism.
“It shows he’s not able to control his uncle and nephew. It is a troubling sign we haven’t seen before in North Korea,” the expert said.
The biggest factor toward stability in the short term is what the North’s main ally, China, does, Hahm said.
“I’m sure China is doing its best to ensure the regime is stable. If anyone has access to what happens inside the North it is Beijing. But everyone has to wait and see.”
Despite being in the international spotlight Kim Jong-un remains little known even to his people, let alone the outside world.
Only recently has the regime begun referring to him publically as a general and erected monuments at sites he visits. This is part of efforts to build a personality cult around him, as was done for his father and grandfather before him.
Attention will also focus on figures close to Jong-un believed to be shepherding him into power. These include Kim Jong-Il's only sister, Kim Kyong-hui and her husband Jang Song-thaek, the country's unofficial number-two leader.
Kim Jong-un is said to take after his father and have the potential to be an equally ruthless leader. He is also said to have studied in Switzerland, be fluent in English and have a penchant for basketball.
북한의 절대 권력을 쥐고있었던 김정일 국방 위원장의 사망에 따라, 검증 받지 않은 아들 정은이 흔들림 없이 후계구도를 유지 할 수 있는지에 대해 의문이 더해가고 있다.
올해 29세(북한측 주장)인 김정은은 부친이 보여줬던 것과 마찬가지로 `3년상(喪)' 이라는 과정을 거치면서 권력을 공고하게 할 것으로 보인다.
그러나 김정은의 의도대로 권력을 다질 수 있을지는 불투명하다.
북한측 주장에 따르면 김정은이 나이가 어릴 뿐만 아니라 당 중앙군사위 부위원장으로 김정일의 그림자 역할 만했지 단독으로 정책을 결정하고 국정을 운영해본 경험이 거의 없다는 것이다.
아산정책연구원 함재봉 원장은 “무엇이든지 일어 날수 있다" 라고 말하며 “다음에 무슨 일이 생길지는 현재 후계자 세습 과정의 진행 상태와 얼마나 김정은 세력이 안전하게 확보 될것인 지에 따라 결정 될 것이다” 라고 말했다.
또한, 힘이 커질 대로 커진 장성택 부위원장이 손에 쥔 권력을 김정은에게 순순히 넘겨줄지도 미지수라는 관측도 나오고 있다.
일단 김정일이라는 거대한 힘의 공백이 생긴 가운데 김정은에게는 장성택이 권좌에 오르는 과정에서 최대의 라이벌이 될 수도 있어 보인다.
이렇게 된다면 중국에 체류 중인 것으로 알려진 김정은의 이복형 김정남이 새로운 지도자로 내세워질 수도 있다는 시나리오도 제기된다.
하지만 이런 북측의 의견에도 불과하고 후계자 승계의 과정은 김정은에게 2010년 9월부터 정치적인 위치와 군부의 힘을 실어 준 이후로 국정 운영 기술까지 배우며 꾸준히 자신의 업적을 쌓아왔다고 하는 바도 거론되고 있다.