North Korea has been described in various terms such as ‘the world’s most secretive’, ‘most isolated’ and ‘most dangerous’ of countries. The bizarre developments in this once ‘hermit kingdom’ have ceased to cause much surprise in the outside world. Last week saw the emergence of a 23 or 24 year-old third son of the supreme leader Kim Il Jong, Kim Il Un being declared a ‘General’ in the world’s fifth largest army (estimated strength 1.21 million).
There is much speculation that this youth was going through the motions of being anointed the despot of this rigid Stalinist dictatorship, Western reports said.
If Kim Il Jong succeeds his father he will be the third generation leader of the Kim dynasty to rule the country after 1953 with the end of the Korean war. Grandfather Kim Il Sung, the founder of the Kim dynasty called himself the ‘Eternal Leader’ and was succeeded by his son Kim Il Jong the ‘Dear Leader’ who is now reported in a poor state of health and has picked his third son for succession. Passing the baton of succession is no easy task even in this dynasty in a one party totalitarian and most probably has to receive the sanction of the all powerful army and the party. Last week’s ceremonies that were given much publicity within the country and the outside world is believed to indicate acceptance of the new aspirant.
Communist Royal Family
Korea is unique as a communist state in that it has a royal family even though there is no symbolic crown to be passed down the line. Whether the apple cheeked youth would have it easy to succeed is by no means clear for there are other power wielding family members. The Economist points out that there is Kim Il Jung’s mother Kang Ban Suk — the Mother Korea and his first wife Kim Chong Suk — the Mother of Revolution and his brother Kim Chol Ju — the Revolutionary Fighter. A more important family member is Kim Jung Il’s brother- in- law Chang Sung Taek, whom analysts describe as the second most powerful man in the country who is the Vice Chairman of the National Defence Commission, the decision making body of North Korea.
Speculation is that Chang would act as regent in guiding young Kim Il Un along but history shows that there is always the possibility of the regent deciding to take over reins of power permanently.
Problems Of Governance
Governing North Korea which had adopted a very hostile attitude to the outside world, particularly to the West will be a formidable task. Since 1953 when Kim Il Sung became leader it has been supported by the Soviet Union and China economically and in defence. The collapse of the Soviet Union resulted in severe curtailment of aid and reports said that it resulted in widespread famine which resulted in the death of millions. China remains its sole ally providing diplomatic and economic assistance even though it supported the UN resolution calling for sanctions against North Korea for its nuclear policy.
China is the most effective of the six nation team of negotiators attempting to change the North’s nuclear policy. Chinese concern has probably more to do with the fear of the fall out on China if there is anarchy within its neighbouring country because the consequence of the possible influx of millions of North Koreans across its border.
China needs reduction of tension in North East Asia and would not want provocations from its unpredictable neighbour. The sinking of a South Korean ship Cheonan in waters bordering the two Koreas resulting in the deaths of 46 South Korans escalated tensions to dangerous levels as South Korea retaliated by staging joint defence exercises with the United States in the Korean seas. The peace agreement signed between the North and South is now in shambles and North Korea is not likely to call off its nuclear programme unless China exerts tremendous pressure.
South Asian Dynasties
North Korea is an example of a communist state going in for a third generation dynasty. The tendency for dynasties is evident in many parts of the world whether they be capitalist democracies, liberal socialist countries and even Third World countries under the rule of strongmen and women, hiding behind a façade of democracy.
South Asia provides good examples. Nepal’s Maoists got rid of one of the oldest monarchies and the only Hindu monarchy in the world by throwing out King Gyanendra from his palace. But the country still remains in turmoil and reports say that the Nepali army and conservatives are still sympathetic towards the displaced monarch. Bangladesh has the two Begums — Sheik Hassina, daughter of the founder of the country Sheik Mujibur Rahaman and Khaleda Zia, wife of an army general who seized power. The Begums are battling it out while their disreputable family members, some of whom are called Mr. Ten Per Cent etc. for good reasons are waiting for the crumbs to fall off the table.
India has Rahul Gandhi, the ‘Crown Prince’ awaiting his call even though many Indians say his sister Priyanka would be a better bet to head the fourth generation of Nehrus. Bhutan’s King Wang Chuk has been sagacious enough to hand over most of the royal powers to an elected parliament before the traditional call for the heads of monarchs is made.
Pakistan has Asif Zardari wearing the mantle of his wife, the late Benazir and acting as ‘regent’ till their son takes over. In the Maldives the traditional rulers the Diddis are in the background possessing much wealth while in Sri Lanka two of the old dynasties seem to be running. In Sri Lanka, it would be presumptuous to rule out two time President Chandrika Bandaranaike or her descendents and another generation of Senanayakes coming into parliament after a long absence. Meanwhile, the new dynasty, the Rajapaksas is in the making and is making waves. Unlike monarchies, dynasties do not last long. Monarchies with their long experience tend to cast off much of the power vested in them while aspiring dynasties have a tendency of accumulating power and imploding.
Rise And Fall
Julian Berger writing in The Guardian last week on the Kim dynasty says that it will be the first time in modern history that a dictatorship will be handed through three generations. The last time was in Paraguay where the founding father Joe Gasper Rodriguez (El Supremo) de Francia passed on power to his nephew Carlos Antonio Lopez who was succeed by his son Francisco Solano Lopez. The rule of the founding father was so arbitrary that he ordered all dogs in the country to be shot and that he personally conducted all weddings where Spaniards were banned from marrying one another. The other was the Somoza dynasty of Nicaragua which had three presidents in two generations and the youngest of them all Anastasio Somoza being overthrown by the Sandinistas in 1979. Dynasties it appears has a tendency of imploding unlike monarchies some of which seem to go on and on like the British monarchy.