The North Korean regime has always relied on public loyalty to the ruling Kim dynasty to maintain its totalitarian grip on power. But following a series of apparent high-profile executions, sources within the country suggest that cracks are beginning to show amid a growing willingness to express dissatisfaction with Kim Jong-un’s leadership.
Criticism of the alleged recent execution of the defence chief, Hyon Yong-chol, has been circulating in the capital, sources say, although it is impossible to verify these claims independently.
“Kim’s popularity among citizens has rapidly declined,” a woman from South Pyongyan province, who asked to remain anonymous, said during a phone conversation on 31 May. “People say that considering the fact that Kim had executed dozens of high-ranking officials within the few years since coming to power, ‘there’s no hope left’.”
Criticism of Kim, who succeeded his father Kim Jong-il in 2011, has spread to other regions of the country, she says, with the common complaint being that the younger Kim is “even worse than his father”.
Another source in North Pyongyan confirmed reports of mounting criticism, adding that unlike during the Kim Jong-il era: “officials in rural regions and security agents are far more inclined to air grievances more publicly regarding the leadership. Not only residents but even party cadres sneer when they see footage broadcast idolising the leader,” he claimed. “Many just say, ‘this sucks’, and switch off the TV.”