Five Signs North Korea is Preparing for New Leadership

When you want to find out what’s really happening in a country like North Korea, it’s not always a simple process.  The only media in the country is state regulated with information (and people) restricted and censored.  Aside from the slow movement of cell phones, DVD players, and the handful of people who get to cross their borders, the country remains a political island in the world economy. 

But none the less, there are signs that the country’s leader; Kim Jong-il may be setting the stage to transition power to his third son; Kim Jong-un.  Here are five signs of that potential transition:

  1. Kim Jong-il suffered a stroke in August 2008 and may be looking to replace himself as leader of North Korea.  Kim Jong-il has three sons, two of which are still alive.  However most expect that his third son, Kim Jong-un, is the likely candidate. 
  2. In March 2010, North Korea executed their top financial official, Pak Nam-gi, as a response to a botched currency devaluation plan that resulted in widespread unrest and resentment toward the government.  The plan effectively abolished the use of their “old” bank notes, wiping out the savings of many of the countries “illegal” entrepreneurs, since free market activities are forbidden in North Korea.  The government has also banned the holding of any foreign currency, which has traditionally been used to smuggle in goods from other countries.  This policy failed as prices shot up and state-run stores failed to meet consumer demand.   
  3. The North Korean parliament fired its Prime Minister, Kim Yong-il, on June 7th 2010 and elected Jang Song-taek, the brother-in-law of Kim Jong-il, to the country’s 2nd highest position in the National Defense Commission.  Jang Song-taek is now the 2nd most powerful person in North Korea. 
  4. The K.C.N.A. also reported on June 7th 2010 that three other economic ministers were replaced. This gives the Workers Party, who currently control North Korea, more control over the already state-run economy. 
  5. Ri Je-gang, another senior party official, died in a traffic accident in June 2010.  Although it is not certain whether his death can be declared an accident or an assassination, it is assumed that the influence of Jang Song-taek will increase as a result.  

We can never be certain of what will become of North Korea but it does appear that something is in the works.  When Kim Jong-il assumed power in 1994, he had been groomed for years by his father in anticipation for the role.  But this time it looks like Kim Jong-il has made no such preparation for his own children.  This could result in a messy transition to power if the country’s leadership is not effectively controlled. 

Many analysts suggest that due to his stroke, Kim Jong-il may be feeling the pressure to secure his throne as he could be running out of time.  If he is unable to do so, there may be a power struggle that plays out among the political elites of this Communist nation. 

Analysts expect Kim Jong-il to announce his youngest son, Kim Jong-un, as the official leader of North Korea in 2012.  Stay tuned…

Daniel Royse Written by:

Daniel Royse is the founder and editor in chief of the online travel publication, This Boundless World. He has written numerous articles on travel, business and politics and has recently completed his first full-length novel titled The Watermelon King. Daniel is an obsessive writer and explorer who has backpacked to over 50 countries, spanning five continents. To the disbelief of many, he still enjoys long, hot bus rides through chaotic places. More information about The Watermelon King can be found at