North Korea succession: From Kim Yo-jong to Kim Kyong-hui, key figures in leadership role

If Kim Jong-un is dead, not only his sister Kimyo-jong but also some party and family members will play key roles in power transition

North Korea has never revealed officially who will be Kim Jong-un's successor. Currently, when rumours about North Korean supreme leader's health and his alleged death news topped trending topics on social media, netizens pose the inevitable question: "Who is the next leader of the secretive country?"

Since there is less information about the young children of leader Kim Jong-un, analysts claim that his sister and loyalist Kim Yo-jong could form a regency until his children get old enough to take over the throne. But there are others about whom the world should know.

N.Korea leader Kim vows nuclear restraint
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un Reuters

Doubts on Kim Jong-un's health

South Korean and Chinese officials cast doubt on recent reports that Kim Jong-un was gravely ill following a cardiovascular procedure after his absence from a state anniversary event which triggered speculations about his health. Along with it came the question, who would be the next leader if the third-generation hereditary leader who is reportedly seriously ill or died. Kim Jong-un became the head of the country in 2011 after his father Kim Jing-il, former first secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea, died due to heart attack.

Now there is a widespread fear that Kim Jong-un is either dead or his life is in grave danger. Earlier it was reported that China has dispatched a medical team to North Korea to advise on North Korean leader. While the health of Kim Jong-un remains a widely debated concern, it is speculated that the Chinese team of doctors have headed straight to Hyang San Hospital which has a special facility to deal with heart-related medical issues.

Meanwhile, Fox News reported, citing Japanese magazine Shukan Gendai that Kim Jong-un was in a vegetative state after complications in the heart during stent surgery. Soon, on social media, an alleged funeral image of Kim Jong-un went viral that made many people believe that he is dead and now it is time to see another leader on the throne of Kim dynasty.

Kim Jong-un dead
The image of Kim Jong-un's corpse being circulated on social media. Twitter / AmitSahu_Journo

The sister, Kim Yo-jong

The youngest daughter of former leader Kim Jong-il has been the most visible presence around Kim Jong-un in the past two years, while serving formally as a vice director of the ruling Workers' Party's powerful Central Committee but unofficially as her brother's chief of staff. Kim Yo-jong was named an alternate member of the politburo earlier this month, continuing her climb through the leadership hierarchy.

Cho Han-bum of the Korea Institute for National Unification said, "Kim Yo Jong will be for the time being the main power base with control of the organisation and guidance department, the judiciary and public security."

Senior members of the Workers' Party of Korea

As per the reports, 70-year-old Choe Ryong-hae rose to be the North's nominal head of state in 2019 becoming the president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly. He also served as first Vice Chairman of the State Affairs Commission since April last year.

Hae and a fellow politburo member and former state premier Pak Pong-ju, 81, who oversaw the North's push to introduce more free-market functions to revive its economy, are likely to be the figureheads leading a collective leadership.

Former top nuclear envoy and a party vice-chairman Kim Yong-chol, as well as Foreign Minister Ri Son-gwon, would handle diplomatic issues including stalled denuclearisation talks as they played a key role in summit with US President Donald Trump.

North Korea and South Korea meeting
Head of the North Korean delegation, Ri Son Gwon shakes hands with South Korean counterpart Cho Myoung-gyon as they exchange documents after their meeting at the truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, South Korea Reuters

Kim Jong-un family and the fourth generation

Kim Jong-il's son and older brother of current North Korea leader- the 38-year-old Kim Jong-chul has not been part of the North's leadership is believed to be disinterested in public life. As per analysts he maintains ties with siblings and could play a more public role in a contingency in future.

Kim Kyong-hui, 73, is the aunt of Kim Jong-un and sister of late Kim Jong-il. She was once a powerful figure in the leadership circle when her brother ruled the country. Hui was not seen in public after the execution of her husband, another powerful figure of North Korea, Jang Song-thaek in 2013 by Kim Jong-un. Recently she appeared at a gala event alongside her nephew.

Kim Kyong-hui
Kim Kyong-hui Twitter

However, being a secretive country, there is very limited information about Kim Jong-un's family but as per reports, it is believed that he has three children with Ri Sol Ju, as per South's National Intelligence Service. Since his oldest son is 10-year-old, all of his children would need the assistance and guidance for a while to become the fourth-generation hereditary leader of North Korea in future.

Even though the sister of the supreme leader is the new favourite of netizens as they can't stop talking about Kim Yo-jong on social media, Go Myong-hyun, a research fellow at the Asian Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul said she is "unlikely to take over the helm but could help build a caretaker regime as a power broker until the kids grow up, and Kim Jong Chol might return to help for a while."