North Korean ruler Kim Jong-un recently ordered all counties across the reclusive state to erect statues of the late leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il in an apparent move to strengthen the dynastic dictatorship system, a North Korean defector told The Korea Herald Thursday.
"The directive to establish the statues of the late leaders came as the three-year mourning period for his father Kim Jong-il drew to a close.
This appears to be part of the efforts to idolize the ruling Kim dynasty," said the defector, who recently fled the North.
Given that there are nearly 150 counties in the North, building the statues is expected to cost a lot of money, which critics argue should be spent on enhancing the livelihoods of its starving people and its debilitated economy.
As Kim has sought to consolidate his leadership since taking power upon his father's death in December 2011, he has focused on idolizing his family through having statues built; renovating the Kumsusan Memorial Palace of the Sun, where the deceased leaders are laid to rest; replacing old portraits of the leaders with new ones; and promoting other propaganda activities.
Ahn Chan-il, the head of the World North Korea Research Center, said that through constructing the statues, the North Korean leader sought to further strengthen his political legitimacy.
"The statues have a lot to do with his efforts to solidify his leadership and political legitimacy.
Establishing other facilities or monuments for idolization purposes would be a lot costlier and thus, Kim appears to be focusing on building more statues of his late grandfather and father," he said.
Observers have said that Kim may face tougher challenges when it comes to maintaining his leadership and drawing genuine public support as his options for economic reconstruction are very limited due to the deepening isolation stemming from his country's nuclear and missile tests, cyberattacks and human rights violations.
Though the coercive ruling system and deep-rooted brainwashing mechanisms would help Kim secure forced public consent for his leadership, the ever-worsening poverty would gradually erode his legitimacy as a leader, they noted.
Following the end of the three-year mourning period for his father, Kim is expected to focus on the economy.
Economic recovery is a crucial legacy task for Kim, who aims to make his country a "strong, prosperous" nation, as the North claims it has already become a strong nation ideologically with its "juche (self-reliance)" ideology and militarily with its nuclear program.