North Korean leader consolidating power
By Kim Young-jin
North Korea could complete the power transition to new leader Kim Jong-un during a meeting of its parliament today and may punctuate the occasion with a controversial satellite launch, according to analysts.
Speculation was high that the launch could take place as early as today as part of a flurry of activities to celebrate the 100th birth anniversary of founder Kim Il-sung on Sunday by which time the isolated country has pledged to become “strong and prosperous.”
Analysts say that Kim, taking power after the death of his father Kim Jong-il in December, is likely to be awarded the top post of the powerful National Defense Commission (NDC) when the rubber-stamping Supreme People’s Assembly convenes for its annual session, fully formalizing his leadership.
On Wednesday, Kim was made “first secretary” of the ruling Workers Party during a rare conference and his late father became “eternal general secretary.” The junior Kim was also elected a member of the presidium of the party’s politburo and chairman of its
Central Military Commission (CMC).
The NDC post could come in the form of chairman, a title Kim Jong-il held, or first vice chairman, currently vacant, said Yoo Ho-yeol, an expert at Korea University.
“It is natural that after he became head of the CMC, he would become head of the NDC. Since the NDC is the country’s highest institution, it would formalize the succession,” he said.
While Pyongyang claims the launch ― slated for sometime between today and Monday ― is for peaceful purposes and important for its technological and economic advancement, it is widely seen as a way to advance its long-range missile program.
Analysts say the launch also aims to help bolster the power of the new leader.
The Worker’s Party also reshuffled it leadership lineup by placing a new generation of officials close to Kim in key posts.
The clearest rising star to emerge has been Choe Ryong-hae, named to the Presidium of the Politburo and a vice-chairman of the military commission. In his early 60s, he is said to be close to the ruling family.
Kim’s aunt, Kim Kyong-hui and her husband, Jang Song-thaek, said to be the twenty-something’s closest aides were also named to the Politburo.
Speculation over the timing of the launch was sparked by the North’s announcement Wednesday that it had begun fueling the Unha-3 rocket that will attempt to put a satellite in orbit as well as the likely completion of the power transfer.
Observers said the injection of liquid fuel is one of the final steps and could signal an imminent liftoff. But weather or other factors could cause a delay.
The plan has sent tensions soaring.
During a meeting of foreign ministers from the Group of Eight leading economies in Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reaffirmed her country’s vow to deal resolutely to the launch in chorus with the international community.
``I think we all share a strong interest in stability on the Korean Peninsula, and we will be discussing how best to achieve that as well,'' she said.
The North’s rocket is to be launched from its new site in Dongchang-ri in the northwest of the country and fly south with its second stage before landing somewhere off the shores of the Philippines.
Japan says it will intercept the rocket if it appears headed toward the country. Asian airlines said they would change flight paths on several routes to avoid the rocket.