Leadership Change in North Korean Politics

The Succession to Kim Il Sung

by Kongdan Oh

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This report examines the prospects of the political leadership of North Korea passing from Supreme Leader Kim Il Sung to his son Kim Jong Il. The North Korean regime has carefully arranged the succession in order to preserve the Kim Il Sung system and his self-reliance ideology. Because hereditary succession is such an unusual and inappropriate way to transmit leadership in a socialist country, there are questions as to whether this arrangement will achieve its objective and whether North Korea's power structure and social integrity will remain intact after the death of Kim Il Sung. To address these questions, the author analyzes (1) the chronological development of the rise of Kim Jong Il; (2) the building of a personality cult around Kim Jong Il; (3) the background of and rationale for choosing hereditary succession; (4) the development of Kim Jong Il's leadership strategy; (5) supporters and opponents of Kim Jong Il; and (6) potential policy directions in the post-Kim Il Sung era. The major finding is that hereditary succession in a socialist system is difficult, even for a monolithic regime like that in North Korea, suggesting that Kim Jong Il will have continuing problems establishing his political legitimacy.

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