Young North Korean Leader, Kim Jong-un, Chosen as Head of Ruling Party

The governing Workers’ Party, during the country’s first major political gathering in a year and a half, declared Mr. Kim to be “supreme leader” and awarded him the title of first secretary. The inevitable elevation of Mr. Kim later this week to the top defense commission post will complete his rise to the pinnacle of party, military and state leadership, at a speed that analysts in the region said reflected the insecurity of the young leader’s status as much as it did the secretive leadership’s need to have a solid power center in place immediately.

The country’s Unha or Galaxy rocket is expected to blast off within days. The North says the rocket’s purpose is peaceful, to put a satellite in orbit, but the United States and many other countries see the event as a test of long-range missile technology.

North Korea is trying to use the celebrations to project the image of what its propaganda commonly refers to as a “strong and prosperous nation” and inspire its hunger-stricken people with national pride. North Korea’s national flag and the red hammer-and-sickle flag of the Workers’ Party fluttered across Pyongyang, The Associated Press said, as party delegates toured historic sites, including the birthplace of the new supreme leader’s grandfather, Kim Il-sung, the revered national founder whose 100th birthday will be celebrated on Sunday. Workers scrambled to spruce up the city and plant roadside flowers.

The Worker’s Party conference gives the young leader — or the senior power elite surrounding him — an opportunity to shuffle party and military leaderships, gradually retiring old stalwarts from his father Kim Jong-il’s days as leader and elevating younger loyalists.

Such a generation change has been unfolding since Mr. Kim was officially designated as his father’s successor in the last party meeting, held in September 2010. More signs of the shift came at Wednesday’s party conference, where a group of officials were promoted. Mr. Kim’s aunt, Kim Kyong-hee, became a party secretary; her husband, Jang Song-taek, became a Politburo member. The couple were considered among Mr. Kim’s mentors.

Vice Marshal Kim Jong-gak, a key military political officer widely believed to be Mr. Kim’s promoter among the military elite, was named a Politburo member, a day after the North Korean media revealed that he had been made defense minister.

The most eye-catching, however, was the rise of Choe Ryong-hae, said Cheong Seong-chang, a North Korea analyst at Sejong Institute in Seoul. Mr. Choe, a party secretary, became a member of the presidium of the Politburo. He was also made vice chairman of the party’s central military commission.


At 62,  Mr. Choe is relatively young among the top North Korean hierarchy, which has been filled with people in their 80s and 70s. 

His  rise also showed that the dynastic transfer of power in Pyongyang was not just for the Kim family but was often for the rest of the elite class as well — a factor that analysts often cite to help explain the cohesion of the Kim rule. Mr. Choe’s father fought alongside Mr. Kim’s grandfather, when he was leading a group of Korean guerrillas during the Japanese colonial rule from 1910 to 1945. The families of many of those guerrillas remained key members of the top ruling class. 

However, Kim Jong-il never achieved the revered status of his father. On Wednesday, the party decided to leave the previous top y post — general secretary — vacant, designating Kim Jong-il “eternal general secretary.” Similarly, when Kim Il-sung died in 1994, he was upheld as “eternal president” of the country. 

“Kim Jong-un wanted to show respect to his father, and so created a new top job for him,” said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea specialist at Dongguk University in Seoul.

 Mr. Cheong said that one of the most important qualifications for Mr. Kim as successor in Pyongyang was to demonstrate loyalty to his father and grandfather.

The move illustrated the long shadows of his forefathers under which the young leader must operate.

Choi Myeong-hae, a North Korea  analyst at Samsung Economic Research Institute in Seoul, said: “Kim Jong-un is an avatar of his father. This may indicate that it’s still his father’s people who make key policy-decisions in Pyongyang and that his control of power is incomplete and his position less than secure.”

Mr. Choi said those engineering Mr. Kim’s rise to power were those hand-picked by his father, rather than his own choice, indicating that it would take more time for him to establish his own authority.

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