The Pyongyang regime has described Chang Song-taek, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s former right-hand man, as a “tree’’ that is now cut off, sources well-informed of the North’s power structure in Seoul said on Tuesday.
Chang, Kim’s brother-in-law and a confidant until purged in late 2004 for an alleged bid to enhance his power, was predicted to return to the Workers’ Party because the Dear Leader, 63, reportedly has a limited number of associates to rely on.
But such a possibility looks slim now as Kim has apparently changed his mind, according to sources in Seoul.
“(Chang) was predicted to make a comeback in the past because he was such a close confidant (of Kim Jong-il),’’ the Yonhap news agency quoted a source as saying. “But now almost all the people who, for example, have simply eaten naengmyon (or Korean cold noodles) together in the Yokryukwan restaurant (in Pyongyang) have been expelled to local areas. The likelihood of Chang’s comeback is near zero now.’’
Chang was formerly vice-director of the party’s exceptionally powerful bureau _ the Organization and Guidance Department. High-profile defector Hwang Jang-yop once described him as the “No. 2 man’’ in North Korea.
Now Ri Che-kang (phonetic), new vice-director of the potent department, is known to be in charge of removing Chang and his close allies from the political scene.
The intended purge of Chang, 60, is allegedly a result of his efforts to promote Kim Hyong-nam, an illegitimate son of Kim Il-sung, the founding father of North Korea, as a contender to Kim Jong-il.
Kim Hyong-nam, 33, was adopted at birth by a sibling of Chang, according to a country report on North Korea by the Economist Intelligence Unit.
The expulsion process resembles one that took place in the 1970s when the Pyongyang regime underwent a power struggle during which “side branches’’ of Kim Il-sung were trimmed away.
At that time, the regime purged Kim Il-sung’s uncle Kim Young-ju as well as others, including the leader’s second wife Kim Song-ae (phonetic) and her children. In 1976, Kim Young-ju disappeared from the political scene and did not re-appear until 1993 when he returned to the Party Central Committee.
Chang is reportedly in a bad state of health now. Even if Kim Jong-il reinstates him, he is unlikely to return to the party. Sources in Seoul predicted that the most likely scenario is that Chang will be named an ambassador _ a job which cannot influence domestic politics.
Kim Jong-il has not yet decided who will succeed him, even though his own ascension to power was carefully prepared over more than 20 years.
There are three known rival candidates for the succession _ all Kim Jong-il’s sons, by two mothers, neither of whom he married.
The eldest, Kim Jong-nam, 34, was reportedly the favorite until 2001 when he was caught visiting a theme park in Japan on a false passport, embarrassing the Pyongyang regime.
Kim Jong-nam’s two rivals are his younger half-brothers _ Kim Jong-chol, 24, and Kim Jong-woon, 22. Kim Jong-il is said to favor Kim Jong-woon, as the more manly of the two, the country report said. Their mother, Ko Young-hee, a former dancer who became his consort, died of cancer in 2004.
Her death triggered numerous media reports predicting an imminent power struggle in the Pyongyang regime, which is described by the Western media as a “Communist dynasty.’’