The secret Communist country of North Korea is in the spotlight once again, as the entire world is left guessing what has happened to the North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un. While the US intelligence officials say that he is badly indisposed, probably dead, the South Korean officials play down such reports. No one knows if he is alive? If he is dead? Or if he is badly indisposed?
Meanwhile, an inheritance struggle has started playing out in the secret Communist land, and geopolitical observers all over the world seem to be concentrating on one lady- Kim Yo Jong- Kim Jong-un’s sister who is largely being proclaimed as a successor to the dictator who might be dead or about to die. But suddenly she faces a challenge for succession from another strong contender- Kim Pyong-il
Who is Kim Pyong-il:
Kim Pyong-il has been around as a possible successor to the Supreme Leader almost ever since the North Korean State was founded and the 65-year old is the only surviving son of North Korea’s founder Kim Il-sung.
Not much is known about anyone from the North Korean royal family, but all that is important is that he belongs to the family’s mythical “Paektu” lineage and he is man that is the only qualification for staking claim to inherit the post of the Supreme Leader in North Korea.
Kim Pyong-il had lost the inheritance battle to his half-brother Kim Jong-il in the 1970s, whereafter the latter ruled North Korea between 1994 to 2011, further succeeded by his son Kim Jong-un who has been in control of the Communist country’s affairs till now.
Side-lined Kim Pyong-il:
After losing to his half-brother in the 1970s, Kim Pyong-il was side-lined from the North Korean polity, and was virtually blacked out from the state media which is the only means of effective PR in the Kim family-ruled country.
He was kept away from Pyongyang for almost four decades and allocated diplomatic assignments in other countries- Hungary, Bulgaria, Finland, Poland and the Czech Republic over the past few decades.
Yet when Kim Jong-un took on the reins of running North Korea’s affairs from his father Kim Jong-il, he didn’t order the execution of Kimg Pyong-il, unlike another uncle Jang Song-thaek who was fed to dogs by the Supreme Leader on charges of ‘treason’.
The North Korean Supreme Leader eliminated his half-brother half-brother Kim Jong Nam as well, ordering his assassination who was murdered by two women at the Kuala Lumpur airport.
Kim Pyong-li remained side-lined or in fact, exiled from Pyongyang all this while serving as a North Korean diplomat in its foreign missions.
He was never seen as much of a threat by Kim Jong-un and was thus sparred from execution just like the latter’s brother Kim Jong Chol, who has not been assassinated because Pyongyang officials consider him too “girlish” to rule North Korea.
“Bloody” Game of Thrones ahead:
Kim Pyong-il might not have been seen as a threat by Kim Jong-un, but with reports of the latter’s indisposition, he is certainly rising in ranks. While he was out of Pyongyang, serving at diplomatic missions for the last four decades after losing the inheritance battle to his brother in the 1970s, he returned to the North Korean Capital last year.
It has to be the mother of all coincidences that the 65-year old returned to the Communist State at a time when an inheritance battle is around the corner and the Supreme Leader is seemingly losing his firm grip due to ill-health.
Both Kim Pyong-il and his niece have positioned themselves well for the succession battle, and while the uncle returned to Pyongyang, his 31-year old niece got reinstated to the party’s all-powerful politburo very recently- earlier this month to be precise.
Earlier, she was removed from the politburo in 2018 following a tussle with her brother the Hanoi denuclearisation summit. But as soon as the reports of her brother getting incapacitated to rule started coming in, she also got elevated to the politburo and today she is touted as number two in Pyongyang (assuming Kim Jong-un is alive).
Both of them have taken positions and have emerged as strong contenders. While Kim Yo Jong is credited as the woman who led Kim Jong-un’s carefully crafted personality cult, he proximity to her brother might not be enough to pull her through.
Kim Jong-un didn’t name a successor and therefore inheritance itself has to be a bloody battle in case there are more than one successor. While many sealed her fate as the future Supreme Leader, concerns remain if the patriarchal North Korean polity would allow a woman to rise in power.
On the other hand, the 65-year old uncle has been away from limelight for far too long. His succession pitch has to be based on his lineage and masculinity- the only two things that North Korea is usually worried about when it comes to succession.
What remains to be seen is if the 31-year old niece can force her way through a male-dominated North Korean politburo, or if Kim Pyong-il who has always been at the side-lines but never completely written off will be able to finally inherit the post of North Korean Supreme Leader.