North Korea Reshuffles Parliament
DEBORAH AMOS, Host:
This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Deborah Amos.
STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
Thanks very much for joining us.
BRIAN MYERS: Thank you for having me.
INSKEEP: Now, what are the jobs for which North Korea's parliament was hiring?
MYERS: The ruling body in North Korea is something called the National Defense Commission. And what happened as a result of this Cabinet reshuffle was that a man who had just been one of the members of that National Defense Commission was promoted to vice chairman, and that person is none other than Kim Jong Il's brother-in-law, Jang Song-taek.
INSKEEP: So he ends up in a very prominent position, the number two position just below Kim Jong Il, in effect?
MYERS: Yeah. He does. And this is actually enhancing speculation he will be holding the true power in North Korea for at least sometime after Kim Jong Il's death.
INSKEEP: Although there had been talk about Kim Jong Il passing power, not to his brother-in-law, but to one of his sons.
MYERS: Yeah. Well, that is probably what is going to happen, ultimately. But Kim Jong-un, who is the son in question, is in his late 20s, and most of the people in the top ranks of the government are in their 70s and 80s. So it seems unlikely that a young and untried leader will be able to take full command at once. So that's why people are figuring that Jang Song-taek is going to be pulling the strings in the background for a least a few months, if not longer.
INSKEEP: So we have a relative of Kim Jong Il, North Korea's ruler, moving into a position where he can shepherd Kim Jong Il's relatively young son into power, perhaps. But Kim Jong Il has a couple of older sons. Why are they not being considered?
MYERS: Well, there's lots of speculation about that. Unfortunately, we don't really have any authoritative sources for them. But we know that his oldest son, Kim Jong-nam, who's in his late 30s, is in Macau at the moment, living kind of a party lifestyle. He's obviously out of the question. We've heard that Kim Jong-chul, who's the second son, was perceived by Kim Jong Il as being too feminine and therefore not right for the post. So the choice seems to have fallen to Kim Jong-un, even though he's only about 27 or 28.
INSKEEP: And Mr. Myers, I have to ask, this is all happening in the midst of a crisis with South Korea. A South Korean vessel was sunk. North Korea is suspected of doing it. The U.S. and South Korea are trying to figure out how to confront the North. Is this a strange time for the North to be making leadership changes?
MYERS: So I think that the shakeup - in particular, the replacement of the premier - was aimed at palliating public opinion, at showing the people that consequences were being derived from this failure.
INSKEEP: Oh, that was the other top job that was switched. The prime minister was switched out here as part of this.
MYERS: Right. It's not a particularly important job, but it is a very visible and high-profile one. And Kim Jong Il, who held the post before, was perceived as being very closely associated with the economic matters, and therefore, he probably seems like a pretty good fall guy.
INSKEEP: Thanks very much.
MYERS: Thank you.
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