In an effort to concentrate his power, North Korea’s dictator leader Kim Jong-un has forcibly removed his uncle Jang Song-Thaek from power. Jang Song-Thaek, North Korea’s unofficial number two, has stood side by side with the young leader Kim Jong-un after Kim Jong-un claimed the throne to North Korea in 2012. Since Kim Jong-un’s rise to power, he has done all that he can to legitimize his authority, purging high ranking officials and party members. His latest victim- his own uncle.
In what must have been a terrifying and humiliating experience for Jang Song-Thaek, the high ranking relative was forcibly dragged out his seat by military officers after Kim Jong-un accused his uncle of being a “drug-taking womaniser.”
The Rodong Sinmum newspaper in North Korea quoted citizens who were enraged by Jang Song-Thaek’s alleged crimes, saying that the government should “burn Jang to death” or “cut his throat”.
The propaganda and fueling of public outrage is another element in Kim Jong-un’s cult of personality type leadership, leading many observers to believe this latest stunt indicates there is tumult in the ranks of North Korea’s leadership. Jang Song-Thaek’s public humiliation and ostracizing is said to be a “stern message to the country and the world,” according Fride Ghitis, a world affairs columnist for the Miami Herald and World Politics Review.
Kim Jong-un’s latest purge of right hand men is similar to that of most dictators of his caliber. The infamous chronologically order state photos of Stalin’s elite team being reduced one by one over a period of five years until there was only Stalin left in the photo shows the extent to which some dictators will go to consolidate power, murdering and exiling once trusted comrades and friends.
Pyongyang’s state media published a report saying that Jang Song-Thaek lived a “dissolute and depraved life,” and accused him of “dreaming different dreams,” than that of the revered leader Kim Jong-un. State media also suggested that Jang Song-Thaek was “gambling in foreign casinos at the party’s expense” and “affected by the capitalist way of living.”
There were also several unnamed party members alongside Jang Song-Thaek who were accused of crimes ranging from corruption, to womanizing.
According to sources, Jang Song-Thaek was also something of a reformer- as much as one can be within the confines of a totalitarian dictatorship. He was against North Korea’s nuclear missile tests earlier this year and promoted limited, but relatively substantial market reforms.
A majority of dissidents in North Korea are either executed or sentenced to life sentences in labor camps, a fate those trying to flee North Korea often face. The fate of Jang Song-Thaek is still unknown, but with the outrage Kim Jong-un’s leadership has espoused over Jang Song-Thaek’s alleged crimes, his sentence will most certainly be a harsh one.
Jang Song-Thaek, who is related to the family by marriage to late Kim Jong-il’s sister, was said to have had a firm standing in the North Korean political and military hierarchy, a threat to Kim Jong-un’s leadership that was impermissible.
South Korea responded to the incident, with President Park Geun-Hye on Tuesday saying that Kim Jong-un has resorted to “extreme violence” to consolidate his power.
President Park Geun-Hye went on to say that relations between the two countries may become even more unstable following the incident.