North Korean leader Kim Jong Un broke his precedent of midnight appearances for a Party Foundation Day anniversary on Friday and remains a no-show, a name list published by the Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) indicated.
North Korea watchers had expected Kim Jong Un to appear at the mausoleum, with his disappearance from public view now continuing for more than one month, yet the KCNA article made no mention of his attendance.
“For the 69th Anniversary of the party establishment, party and military members visited Kumsusan Sun Palace to express their noble respect. Kim Yong Nam, Park Bong Ju, Hwang Byung Seo, and other party, military, working group members joined the event,” the KCNA article said.
The past two years, Kim made a ceremonial visit to Kumsusan Palace of the Sun early in the morning to mark the anniversary. It is worth noting, though, that his father, Kim Jong Il, only observed this tradition twice on this holiday, so it’s certainly not an unbreakable custom.
“As Kim’s absence from the KWP anniversary passes, we can say confidently that Kim Jong Un has experienced an adverse episode of some sorts. The details, however, remain unverified,” said Curtis Melvin, a researcher at the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins SAIS.
Kim has not made a public appearance in 37 days, since September 3, which is his longest absence since he first officially appeared in late 2010.
Kim’s extended absence from public view, as well as his lack of attendance at the 2nd session of the Supreme People’s Assembly and rumors of health problems, has fueled much speculation about Kim’s current status as ruler of North Korea.
Despite the lack of reappearance by Kim, some observers say that Kim remains in power and is recuperating from an injury.
After giving some rare, publicized harsh criticism to the military in April, Kim took a more hands-on approach to military drills and pushed the officers hard.
In his apparent efforts to get things done, Kim spent much time in the field among these units and reportedly injured his leg sometime around July.
“Media attention has now turned to revelations from a third “anonymous source” with reported ties to Pyongyang. This source claims Kim Jong Un has simply suffered a leg injury during the course of conducting field inspections,” said Curtis Melvin.
“Although nobody likes to rely on ‘anonymous sources’, this narrative has the benefit of explaining the facts without resorting to a complex scenario,” Melvin added.
Another sign that Kim is still in power has been Pyongyang’s own state-controlled media.
Though Kim has not been appearing himself, there was certainly no shortage of references to and reverence of him in KCNA and Rodong Sinmun. A KCNA story published Friday claimed that Kim Jong Un was still in power.
“Today the might of the WPK is growing stronger under the seasoned guidance of Marshal Kim Jong Un,” the last line of the KCNA article reads.
The NK News KCNA Watch data tool also shows that mentions of Kim Jong Un actually increased in early and mid-September and then dropped back to the average later in the month.
So, despite his extended absence, available evidence suggests Kim is still alive and still in power – something South Korean intelligence reports corroborated on Friday.
“It seems that Kim Jong-un’s rule is in normal operation,” South Korean unification ministry’s spokesman Lim Byeong-cheol said at a press briefing in comments carried by the Yonhap news agency.
Added to this, the amount of influence and power held by officials certainly varies and Kim, who is young and inexperienced, is not likely to be calling all the shots himself.
However, North Korea’s government is using a dynastic system and having a member of the Kim family – or the “Paektu bloodline” – in the top spot is critical to maintaining this system. Kim may need his advisers and officials, but they need him too.
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