North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is at an age when he should anoint an heir to the world’s only communist dynasty, but the precise timing and which son he will pick to run the secretive state is anyone’s guess, analysts say.
North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party marks its 60th anniversary on Monday and last week the Russian news agency Itar-Tass quoted a diplomatic source in Pyongyang as saying Kim may use the event to announce an eventual successor.
Kim has three known sons and the North’s official media said in January he would hand over to one of them in time.
The eldest one has apparently fallen into disfavor for trying to sneak into Japan on a false passport to visit Tokyo Disneyland while the other two are in their 20s and may be too young, analysts say.
At 63, Kim is about the same age as his father Kim Il-sung was in 1974 when he made Kim Jong Il secretary to the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea.
Taking that key position in the ruling communist party structure was tantamount to Kim Il Sung naming Kim Jong Il as his successor, analysts said.
“Kim Jong Il will first appoint his successor as a high officer in the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea or a high post in the military,” said Koh Yu-hwan, a professor of North Korea studies at the South’s Dongguk University.
He said all three sons have an equal chance but he thinks no decision will be announced soon because attention is focused on pressing issues such as the crisis over Kim’s nuclear ambitions.
North Korea promised in late September to scrap its nuclear weapons programs in return for aid, security guarantees and increased diplomatic recognition, but cast doubt on the deal a day later by asking for civilian nuclear reactors first.
Kim’s eldest son, Jong-nam, 34, was deported from Japan in 2001 for trying to enter the country using a forged Dominican Republic passport. He was quoted as saying that he was trying to visit Tokyo Disneyland.
He reportedly fell out of favor over the incident and has since been the target of two assassination attempts, South Korean media reported citing intelligence sources.
Jong-nam was born to an actress who was Kim’s first mistress. He reportedly studied abroad and lived with his mother in such places as Moscow and Geneva. Like his father during his youth, Jong-nam has something of a playboy image. His mother died in Moscow in 2002.
Kim’s second and third known sons were born to his second mistress, Ko Yong Hi, who died last year of heart problems.
The elder is Jong-chol, who is believed to be 24. Little is known of him except that he studied in Switzerland and is a basketball fan.
The youngest son, Swiss-educated Jong-un, believed to be 22, is considered the most capable of the three, but he may be too young for Kim to name as his heir, analysts say.
Dear Leader Kim Jong Il himself was 32 when he was in effect picked in 1974 to eventually succeed Great Leader Kim Il Sung.
He took power in 1994 when Kim Il Sung died at age of 82.