POSTED: 6:13 a.m. HST, Sep 28, 2010
LAST UPDATED: 12:00 p.m. HST, Sep 28, 2010
SEOUL, South Korea — The youngest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il was elected to his first leadership roles in the ruling Workers' Party, state media said early Wednesday, putting him well on the path to succeed his father as leader of the nuclear-armed nation.
The announcement of Kim Jong Un's election to key party positions during the nation's biggest political convention in 30 years came a day after news that Kim Jong Il had made him a four-star general. Until Tuesday, Kim Jong Un had never appeared in state media, and the military promotion marked his official public debut.
Kim Jong Il, 68, is widely believed to be preparing the son, who is in his late 20s, to succeed him as leader and to take the Kim reign in North Korea to a third generation. The elder Kim, who rules the nation of 24 million with absolute authority, reportedly had a stroke two years ago and is said to be suffering from diabetes and kidney trouble.
Kim Jong Un was named a vice chairman of the party's Central Military Commission as well as to the party's Central Committee, the official Korean Central News Agency said in a dispatch from Pyongyang. Kim Jong Il's younger sister and her husband also were elected to powerful party positions, including membership to the Central Committee, according to KCNA.
Kim Jong Il, who serves as general secretary of the Worker's Party and leads the country as chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission, attended the one-day political conference, the report said, but there was no mention of whether his son made an appearance.
The son has remained well-hidden from public view, and there are no verifiable photos of him as an adult. He is said to have been schooled in Switzerland and to have graduated from his nation's premier military university.
The secrecy surrounding him is reminiscent of Kim Jong Il's own political campaign in the 1970s, when his status as the nation's future leader was confirmed in an appearance at the last major Workers' Party gathering: a party congress in 1980.
He took over as leader when his father, North Korea founder Kim Il Sung, died in 1994, completing a father-to-son transfer of power that was a first for the communist world.
Kim Jong Un's positions on the military commission and Central Committee would be his first political posts.
The military commission is authorized to formulate the party's military policies, direct the country's 1.2 million-member army and oversee military build up projects, according to South Korea's Unification Ministry.
Kim Jong Il — who rules the nation under a "songun," or military first, policy — remains chairman of the commission, KCNA said.
The Central Committee, meanwhile, oversees the party's powerful Political Bureau and Secretariat, and functions as the party's top decision-making body when national congresses are not convened.
Kim Jong Il was named to the committee in 1972, two years before he was tapped as the country's next ruler, according to the Unification Ministry.
Kim also appeared to be tightening the circle of power around the Kim family by naming his sister and her husband to key posts.
Sister Kim Kyong Hui, 64, retained her position as a department director on the Central Committee and gained a new post as a member of the Central Committee's Political Bureau.
Husband Jang Song Thaek, building on his nomination in June to the No. 2 position on the National Defense Commission, won three posts Tuesday: an alternate member of the Political Bureau, department director for the Central Committee and a spot on the military commission, according to KCNA.
Associated Press writer Hyung-jin Kim contributed to this report.