Seoul (South Korea), Apr.11 (ANI): North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's three sons are not the only ones with strong enough family connections to make them contenders for power as their father, weak and still ailing, casts about for a successor.
According to the Christian Science Monitor, Kim is also counting on the economic acumen of his brother-in-law, Jang Song Taek, to buttress his regime.
In one of his first gestures after the Supreme People's Assembly elected him unanimously to a third five-year term as chairman of the National Defense Commission, the center of power in North Korea, Kim made Jang a commission member.
The defense commission grew from eight to 13 members with the addition of two people rewarded for their role in the missile launch.
"Overall," a spokesman for South Korea's unification ministry told reporters in Seoul, "the power of the defense commission was strengthened."
Jang's appointment to the defense commission gives him a formal power base commensurate with the increased influence he's had of late.
Jang, married to Kim's sister, Kim Kyong Hi, has been photographed 24 times this year accompanying Kim on visits to military units and factories. That figure compares with 14 last year and four the year before.
Jang's star has risen since Kim was reported to have suffered a stroke in August, but Kim waited until his own appearance at the opening session of the Supreme People's Assembly to elevate him formally.
Jang already is a senior official in the Workers' Party and also controls the powerful State Security Agency, responsible for the pervasive system of internal espionage that has snared tens of thousands of North Korean citizens suspected of disloyalty in some way to Kim's rule.
The move confirms Jang's standing as the second most powerful man in North Korea with far more clout than the nominal head of state, Kim Yong Nam.
The question now is whether he will want eventually to take over from Kim Jong Il, or will settle for the role of mentor and power-behind-the-throne of one of Kim's sons, probably the youngest.
Yonhap, South Korea's news agency, suggested that Jang "may play a caretaking role for Kim's successor."
According to Fox News, Kim Jong Il is regarded as the world's most reclusive leader, and has of late appeared older, grayer and thinner.His arrival onstage dispelled questions about whether Kim has recovered from the stroke he is believed to have suffered last August -- he appeared alert and enjoyed full use of both arms, unlike in some of the undated footage broadcast in recent days by North Korea's state-run television.
Yet the frailty of the 67-year-old dictator renewed talk about North Korea's future, with no clear succession policy in place.
"That process should begin very soon -- otherwise, the country is in real danger of implosion once he's gone," said Bruce Bechtol, an international relations professor at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College.
Kim Jong Il inherited supreme power 15 years ago from his father, Kim Il Sung, the communist nation's founding ruler. That has created speculation that one of Kim's own three sons will take over when he is gone.
But the eldest, 37-year-old Kim Jong Nam, told reporters in Macau this week it won't be him.
The other two, Kim Jong Chul and Kim Jong Un, both in their 20s, did not run for parliament last month. Their father, by contrast, had assumed important positions in both the Communist Party and the military some 20 years before his ascension to power. (ANI)