As North Korean leader Kim Jong-un wraps up his first year in power, marked by the purging of several old guard elites, he may replace the country’s No. 2 leader, Kim Yong-nam, and some other top officials next year, according to a North Korea expert, Alexandre Mansourov, a specialist in Northeast Asian security, who works as a visiting scholar at the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University.
“Who replaces Kim Yong-nam may tell us about the future direction of the restructuring of the political system,” said. (He added Kim Yong-nam will likely “honorably retire,” rather than being purged.)
Mansourov raised four possible scenarios for the replacement of Kim Yong-nam as ceremonial head of state:
- Kim Jong-un could assume the position himself;
- choose Jang Song-thaek, his uncle, who is apparently at the center of the governing group;
- select another figure like Kang Sok-ju, a longtime confidant to late leader Kim Jong-il on foreign affairs,
- or appoint some dark horse.
The first case would add to speculation that the young leader is in full control of the regime, Mansourov said.
“The appointment of Jang Song-thaek as the nominal head of state will be an indicator of Jang’s rising political and foreign policy influences and continued efforts to secure his grip on power beyond his wife, Kim Kyong-hui,” the sister of Kim Jong-il, he added.
Among the so-called “Gang of Seven,” who walked alongside the hearse carrying Kim Jong-il’s body a year ago, four have been dismissed, with two others also sidelined, he pointed out.
Jang Song-thaek is the only figure who remains in power.
“As for his uncle Jang, I believe the young marshal will use him for as long as he has to, but then he will surely cut him off, probably without much regret, just like his father purged his own uncle Kim Yong-ju when Kim Jong-il deemed him as a threat to his own power bid in the mid-1970s,” Mansourov said.