The mystery surrounding Kim Jong Un’s health exposes deep uncertainty about North Korea’s line of succession more than eight years after he took power. While the Kim family has ruled for seven decades by passing power between male heirs like other hereditary dynasties, the 36-year-old Kim has named no successor. His own children are still young and the ruling family’s surviving adults all face potential barriers to their rise.
Here are some possible successors:
Kim Yo Jong, Sister
Part royal representative, part personal assistant, Kim Yo Jong has emerged as one of her older brother’s closest aides. Earlier this month, she was reinstated as an alternate Politburo member of the ruling Workers Party of Korea. As such, she’s the only other member of the Kim family with anything approaching real power in the regime.
Kim Jong Un’s Son
A male heir would provide the most conventional line of succession in a dynasty previously ruled by Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, and founded by his grandfather, Kim Il Sung. South Korean intelligence said Kim married Ri Sol Ju, a former singer, in 2009 and is thought to have three children.
Kim Han Sol, Nephew
Kim Han Sol, born in 1995, may have become heir-apparent himself if his father, Kim Jong Nam, hadn’t fallen out with Kim Jong Il and gone into exile in the Chinese gambling hub of Macau. Kim Jong Nam was Kim Jong Un’s older half-brother and his most serious rival, frequenting casinos and occasionally criticizing his younger sibling’s regime.
Kim Jong Chol, Brother
Kim Jong Chol, Kim Jong Un’s only surviving brother, would be another longshot, since he has shown more interest in guitars than politics. Thae Yong Ho, the former No. 2 at North Korea’s embassy in London who defected to South Korea, once said Kim’s elder brother “doesn’t own any official title” adding he’s “just a really talented guitarist.”
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