N Korea moves

North Korea has given the first clear signal about who will succeed its ailing supreme leader Kim Jong-Il, by  bestowing on his son Kim Jong-un a military position. The hermit country is an information black hole and any thinking of its leadership and the ruling Workers Party can only be deduced from stray signs that they let out to the world. The party is now holding its biggest convention in 30 years and it was widely conjectured that it would anoint Kim Jong Il’s son. The elder Kim has been ailing for long after he is thought have suffered a stroke two years ago and has made only rare public appearances. He seemed not be in the best of health and so it was believed that the process to select a new leader has started.

Ironically for a communist country, leadership of the state and party runs in a single family in North Korea. Kim Jong-Il’s father, Kim Il-sung, who was called the Great Leader, ruled the country for 46 years ever since its inception in 1948, till his son took over 16 years ago. Hero worship is also an intrinsic part of the totalitarian political culture of the country. Kim Jong-Il is referred to in public not by his name but by the title Dear Leader. There is no information about the personality and background of the son who might probably be groomed for leadership, except that he is the third son of the leader and had his education in Switzerland. He has no experience in party or government and will not have a long training period as his father had. But it is believed that there may not be many transition problems because there are already experienced members of the family in key positions.

The leadership question in North Korea is important because the country is a nuclear weapon state and has the world’s fifth largest army. The country’s military power, paranoia, unpredictability and the extreme backwardness and poverty make a dangerous mix. If the succession process is not smooth, as some reports had earlier indicated, there can be serious consequences for the immediate neighbourhood and for the world at large.

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