North Korea’s state-run media on Saturday published an entreaty to the country’s new young leader, Kim Jong-un, to become “supreme commander” of the military, signaling that his succession is moving forward unimpeded.
The military’s support is considered crucial to his consolidating control after the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, a week ago, and the commentary is part of the pattern set when Kim Jong-il took power: entreaties are made and then the leader graciously accepts.
The state-run media’s call for Kim Jong-un to lead the military suggests that, at least for now, he is on pace to take full control of the country. Analysts outside North Korea had long predicted that a regent might rule while Kim Jong-un gained more experience. While he could still be subject to power plays by influential leaders, it appears for now that he will not have to share control publicly.
South Korea and the United States have been worried that a power struggle could lead the North to lash out with some type of military strike to build the new leader’s military credentials. But the announcement that Kim Jong-un will continue his father’s military-first policy raises the same worry.
Analysts have already suggested that he was involved in the planning of two attacks on the South in 2010: the sinking of a warship and the shelling of an island. Fifty South Koreans died in the two attacks. North Korea has denied responsibility for the sinking.
The military is not the only group of elites that Kim Jong-un must keep in line. On Saturday, the North Korean news media reported that the young Mr. Kim released truckloads of fish to Pyongyang residents, presenting them as a gift from his deceased father. In the centrally controlled country, the only families who can live in the capital are those deemed particularly trustworthy, including families of party members and military officers.
The reports Saturday carried photos of housewives lining up to receive rations of herring and pollock at state-run grocery stores.
Reuters Exclusive: North Korea's Military to Share Power with Kim's Heir (Dec 21, 2011)
North Korea will shift to collective rule from a strongman dictatorship after last week's death of Kim Jong-il, although his untested young son will be at the head of the ruling coterie, a source with close ties to Pyongyang and Beijing said.
The source added that the military, which is trying to develop a nuclear arsenal, has pledged allegiance to the untested Kim Jong-un, who takes over the family dynasty that has ruled North Korea since it was founded after World War Two.
The source declined to be identified but has correctly predicted events in the past, telling Reuters about the North's first nuclear test in 2006 before it took place.