Latest developments point to instability in N Korea

Latest developments point to instability in N Korea

NORTH KOREA - North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's reinforced reign of terror is further increasing uncertainty over the long-term political and economic stability of the reclusive regime, analysts said Sunday.

Continuous purges and executions of officials, political and financial rewards to stalwart followers and a massive national campaign to idolize the dynastic ruler have made Kim's leadership seemingly stable.

But observers questioned the long-term viability of his iron-fisted rule, which could erode public support and stifle voices and creative ideas for reform, openness and better ties with the outside world.

"Kim's leadership is not unstable for now, as he is strengthening discipline among elites and rewarding loyalists by offering them state citations and higher positions, which were left vacant after purges and executions," said Huh Moon-young, a senior fellow at the state-run Korea Institute for National Unification.

"But for the long-term outlook, uncertainty grows. With external relations deadlocked, the economy would continue to deteriorate, which would worsen discontent among regular people, soldiers and middle-level officials."

The recent executions of senior officials including his so-called guardians, such as Kim's once-powerful uncle Jang Song-thaek, have created a climate of fear, which calls for absolute obedience to the dictator.

But these purges could send a message to Kim's loyalists that they could also be removed. The purges could weaken elites' trust of the ruler, albeit inexplicitly, and destabilize his leadership in the long run, some analysts said.

Among the seven promising officials who escorted the hearse carrying the body of former leader Kim Jong-il during his funeral in December 2011, only Kim Ki-nam, a secretary of the ruling Workers' Party, and Choe Tae-bok, the chairman of the Supreme People's Assembly, remain in power.

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