"Finally," one is tempted to say. The years of speculation and half-baked news from dubious sources are over. A senior North Korean official has confirmed the unbroken line of power from father to son to grandson. The nagging issue, over which there's been so much speculation, as to who will inherit Kim Jong Il's regime has been officially resolved. Or has it?
The third delegates' meeting of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea on Sept. 28 answered a few questions. Still, it left others unanswered and posed quite a few new ones as well. In the end, Kim Jong Il emerged the undisputed leader. But has his legitimacy become more independent of his father than it used to be? Kim Jong Un has been introduced to the people. Does this mean he is going to succeed Kim Jong Il? Or will he succeed Kim Il Sung? Kim Jong Il's sister Kim Kyong Hui has been promoted to the rank of general and is part of the party leadership. Is she supposed to support her nephew, or is this part of a strategy to more broadly enhance the family's power? Her husband Jang Song Taek is also on board. Will he share the caretaking job with his wife? Are there any other members of the extended Kim family on the team?
First, let's review the facts:
1. On Monday, Sept. 27, Kim Jong Un was mentioned for the first time in the official North Korean media when he was promoted to the rank of general. Now, at last, we know for sure how to write his name.
2. On the same day, Kim Jong Il's sister was promoted to the same military rank as her nephew.
3. On Sept. 28, one day later, the first delegates' meeting of the Workers' Party in 44 years -- and the biggest gathering since the last party congress in 1980 -- opened after a mysterious delay. It had originally been announced for "early September."
4. Contrary to speculation in the Western media, Kim Jong Il did not step down nor did he hand over any of his powers to his son. Rather, the elder Kim was confirmed as the current leader of the party, the military, and the country.
5. From 1945 until 1980, the Workers' Party held six party congresses and two conferences or delegates' meetings. This means that on average, the party had one major event every 4.4 years. However, over the past three decades, it had none. Even the 21st (and so far last) plenum of the Workers' Party was held 17 years ago in December 1993. Now, the party's defunct leadership structure has been restored, and the delegates elected 124 members of the Central Committee and 105 alternates. These 229 people form the party's elite. From among the members, 17 were named to the committee's Politburo, the party's second-highest leading organ, and 15 as alternates.
6. The Politburo, in turn, is headed by a Presidium, or Standing Committee, of five people, with Kim Jong Il at the top as the party's general secretary. It also consists of Kim Yong Nam (82 years old), Choe Yong Rim (80), Jo Myong Rok (82), and Ri Yong Ho (68). The last was promoted the day before the delegates' meeting to the post of vice marshal. He thus ranks above Kim Jong Un and his aunt and is rumored to be a member of the Kim family, which if true, implies a particularly strong base for loyalty. Given the advanced age of most of its members, if the Presidium is not newly elected in a few years, who will remain? This makes Ri, by far the body's youngest member (along with Kim Jong Il), particularly interesting.