North Korea's Kim Jong Il reaffirms his leadership

A rare public appearance Thursday at the legislature, where he was unanimously reelected, came days after a missile launch.

KRT via Reuters TV/Reuters
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il (c.) clapped his hands at the 12th Supreme People's Assembly in Pyongyang, North Korea. Mr. Kim was unanimously re-elected by Parliament on Thursday.

Seoul, South KoreaNorth Korea's leader Kim Jong Il appeared on video footage Thursday in a performance clearly intended to demonstrate to his people and the world that he's well enough to rule his country.

Mr. Kim's appearance at the Supreme People’s Assembly, where he received a standing ovation and was unanimously reelected to his country's most powerful position, was his first in public since he reportedly suffered a stroke in August. It was seen as a climactic moment of triumph after a week dominated by news of North Korea’s successful launch Sunday of a long-range missile.

Just how firmly Mr. Kim can hold on, however, is far from clear. Seated at a long table on stage, he appeared frail and thinner than the pudgy image often photographed in previous years. Two or three times he waved weakly as the delegates stood applauding and cheering.

Although North Korean state media have shown Kim on a record 44 visits in recent months to military and industrial sites, he was not shown in motion on video until two days ago – and then only briefly before broadcasts of a missile launch last Sunday.

A week of triumph
Throughout the week, North Korean broadcasts have repeatedly claimed that the launch successfully put a satellite in orbit. The United States North American Aerospace Defense Command has said the missile’s payload fell into the Pacific Ocean along with the second stage of the rocket.

Kim’s appearance came a day after thousands of North Koreans rallied in the heart of the capital, shouting slogans of praise for his “glorious accomplishments” in launching the missile and the satellite.

The session of the Supreme People’s Assembly had the aura of elaborate ritual. After unanimously rubber-stamping his reelection as chairman of the National Defense Commission, the center of power, the members unanimously adopted a revision of the country’s Constitution. It’s not clear what changes were made.

Hints at a successor
Kim is expected to preside over reshuffles of leadership posts in moves that suggest he’s masterminding his succession. The post may well go to one of his three sons, probably the youngest, who is expected to rule as a front for a coterie of generals.

His oldest son, Kim Jong-nam, reported to have led a playboy life in Macao, Japan, and China, remarked in an interview with a Japanese TV network, “If I were the successor, you [wouldn't] see me in Macao… My father is an important person, but I am not.”

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