Jang Song-taek and Kim Kyong Hui, behind-the-scenes powers in North Korea

At the time of Kim Jong Il’s apparent stroke in August 2008, his brother-in-law, Jang Song-taek (who is married to Kim’s sister, Kim Kyong-hui) was rumored to be the key backer of the older brother (Kim Jong-nam) of North Korea’s new leader, Kim Jong-un.

However in early 2009, Jang shifted his support to Kim Jong-un in light of Kim Jong Il’s “special affection” for his third son and successor, and out of consideration for his own future political power. Worried about being purged as he was in 2004 for becoming too powerful within the regime, Jang reportedly reached a deal with Kim Jong Il and thus agreed to throw his support behind Kim Jong-un. In return, Kim Jong Il allowed Jang to engineer the succession by placing his allies in key posts throughout the regime.

Kim Kyong Hui, the aunt of North Korea’s present leader Kim Jong-un, has been known as the “godmother of the royal family.” Kyong Hui is herself a four-star general – the first woman in North Korea to hold that rank –  and well known for being a “shadow power broker.” Japanese companies seeking to move into North Korea sought out personal connections that would eventually lead to her.

Kim Kyong Hui, married to the second-most powerful man in North Korea Jang Song-taek, has been described as cantankerous, obstinate and a drunk. North Korean insiders say Kyong Hui has a violent temperament and never changes her mind once she has made a decision. She was a regular member of the alcohol drinking parties hosted by Jong Il and attended by high-ranking party officials. According to sources, she cannot stop drinking once she starts. She has been known to drunkenly bellow at her husband: “Hey, Jang Song Taek, drink up!”

She met her husband, Jang Song Taek, who came from an ordinary family outside of Pyongyang, when they were students at Kim Il Sung University.

4 thoughts on “Jang Song-taek and Kim Kyong Hui, behind-the-scenes powers in North Korea

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