North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s sister, who was increasingly being seen as his successor, is now missing from a new list of the Worker Party’s politburo, the state media reported on Monday.
Elections were held for the party’s central committee on Sunday during the ongoing multi-year congress which maps out the nation’s five year policy goals.
Ms Kim Yo-jong, Mr Kim Jong-un’s sister, remained a member of the central committee but was not included on its politburo list, the state-run KCNA reported. She was chosen in the politburo for the first time in 2017 and was just the second woman to be chosen for the position after her aunt.
Her political clout has been increasing in recent years as she was entrusted with more responsibility by her brother, especially last year when his health worsened and he was absent from public gatherings. However, the signals are now mixed.
Leif-Eric Easley, associate professor of international studies at Ewha Woman’s University in Seoul said: “Kim Yo-jong’s path of promotions is not linear. She comes in and out of prominence and her title tends not to match her importance.”
Ms Kim, who is the youngest of the four children of Kim Jong-il, started with assisting her brother and soon became one of his most trusted aides. Ms Kim gained international attention in 2018, when she was the first member of the Kim dynasty to visit South Korea. She was part of the delegation to the Winter Olympics, where North and South competed as a joint team.
The speculations around Ms Kim being a possible successor have been around for quite some time, however, some observers also believe that there isn’t much evidence that Ms Kim is being groomed as a successor.
Mr Easley says: “Kim Jong-un is not transferring power but rather empowering various trusted officials with the limited governing authority. This is about purging ineffective managers, modernising state institutions, and sharing responsibility.”
“It doesn’t make sense to talk about a No 2 in the North Korean system, but having someone else who can speak for the regime with authority gives Kim Jong-un flexibility to step in and increase the pressure further or dial it back to avoid unwanted conflict,” he says.
Mr Kim continues to enjoy full authority in the country since he took over following the death of his father in 2011.