Kim Jong Il Son’s Cabinet Absence May Signal North Korea Succession Delay

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s youngest son and heir-apparent wasn’t mentioned in a list of new Cabinet members today, signaling that the dynastic transfer of power isn’t likely to happen soon.

Kim Jong Un, thought to be in his late 20s, was given his first posts within the ruling Workers’ Party in September, paving the way to become North Korea’s next leader. His name didn’t feature, though, in government appointments approved at a parliamentary meeting, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency. The Supreme People’s Assembly did agree on next year’s budget and a new security minister.

“Not getting elected to a government post doesn’t threaten Kim Jong Un’s status as the next leader,” said Kim Yong Hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul. “It just means that Kim Jong Il is confident of his health conditions to remain leader and that he will take the time he needs to raise a successor.”

Kim Jong Il plans to extend his family’s 63 years of dynastic rule as economic woes deepen following a botched currency revaluation in late 2009 and amid ongoing United Nations sanctions for North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs.

South Korean officials have said that Kim Jong Il, 69, appears to have recovered from a stroke in 2008.

Experts including Yang Moo Jin, a professor of the University of North Korean Studies, have said Kim Jong Un may be elected to the National Defense Commission, the nation’s highest government body and chaired by his father.

The post of first vice chairman on the defense commission has been vacant since Jo Myong Rok died of heart disease in November. The position wasn’t filled at today’s meeting.

Commission Post

Kim Jong Un was made a vice chairman at the commission, a rank below first vice-chairman, on Feb. 10, South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported Feb. 16. His appointment will be formally endorsed at the parliamentary meeting, the newspaper said then.

The commission has four vice chairmen, including Jang Song Thaek, Kim Jong Il’s brother-in-law. Jang was appointed at the last parliamentary session in June in what analysts said was a move aimed at solidifying a hereditary succession by bestowing power to a member of the Kim family.

Kim Jong Un was elected to the second-highest military post in the party and made a four-star general in September when he was mentioned by state media for the first time.

Kim Kyong Hui, Kim Jong Il’s sister and Jang’s wife, was made a member of the party’s Politburo also in September.

Leadership Threats

Kim Jong Il appears increasingly concerned about internal threats to his leadership, boosting security around his residences since pro-democracy uprisings erupted in the Middle East, Kwon Young Se, a lawmaker at South Korea’s ruling Grand National Party, said in a March 16 interview in Seoul. Kwon cited a report by the National Intelligence Service to the National Assembly’s Intelligence Committee that he chairs.

North Korea’s economy shrank 0.9 percent in 2009, when UN sanctions banning arms trading and restricting financial transactions were toughened following the country’s second nuclear test in May that year, according to the Bank of Korea in Seoul. North Korea doesn’t release its own data.

Kim Jong Il was made the defense commission’s first vice chairman in 1990, 16 years after he was named successor to his father and North Korea’s founder, Kim Il Sung. Kim Jong Il became North Korea’s leader after his father died in 1994.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bomi Lim in Seoul at blim30@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg in Hong Kong at phirschberg@bloomberg.net

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