For more than a month, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been absent from the public eye. Initially, there was slight speculation but after skipping out on several official engagements, the most recent being today’s Workers’ Party of Korea celebration, further speculation is fueled.
There has been no word on Jong-un’s whereabouts but even more disturbing is that no one knows who is currently in charge of the country. Over the past several months, his younger sister, Kim Yo-Jong, has been making numerous appearances, leaving some analysts to believe that she is now at the helm but whether that is on a temporary or permanent basis is unclear.
Jong-un took over North Korea’s leadership position in 2011 after the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, who had been the country’s ruler for a long time. Following a longstanding tradition, Kim Jong-il would lead top military and party officials to a midnight visit to the Kumsusan mausoleum in Pyongyang.
According to reporters, while the procession to the mausoleum that holds the mummified bodies of Kim Jong-un’s father and grandfather occurred, North Korea’s current leader was nowhere in sight. The mausoleum is one of the most sacred places in the country, which makes Kim Jong’un’s absence even more disturbing.
In addition, Kim Jong-un’s absence from last night’s event was never mentioned by any media outlet. However, a small hint to his disappearance was provided by the state-run newspaper, Rodong Sinmum, saying the leader was ill. The article mentioned that baskets of flowers were delivered to Kim Jong-un, one with a ribbon that read, “wishes for Marshal Kim Jong-un’s good health”.
The mention of the ribbon seems incredibly odd to Cheong Seong-chang, and analyst at the Sejong Institute in South Korea. He stated that a ribbon mentioning the leader’s health would be highly unlikely. He added that because the ribbons for all the baskets of flowers carried the same message, it was something obvious the party dictated an effort to win sympathy from the people.
Last month, North Korea’s state-run Korean Central Television station confirmed that the country’s leader was not feeling well. At one point, a brief video of Kim Jong-un limping while visiting a factory was aired. Again, this move is extremely unusual since any type of coverage of Kim Jong-un, especially something pertaining to his health, is closely guarded.
Even with growing speculation and concern as to who sits at the helm, the North Korea news agency insists that Kim Jong-un remains in complete control. Lim Byeong-cheol, a government spokesman in Seoul said that South Korea believes Kim Jong-un is still functioning normally in his leadership role and that in fact, he sent greetings to President Park Geun-hy when officials from North Korea visited South Korea this past Saturday.
It was normal for his father to disappear from public view for weeks at a time but with this being the longest period that Kim Jong-un has been out of sight people are beginning to ask questions.
Kim Jong-un suffers from a number of health problems to include diabetes because of his lavish lifestyle and being overweight. Analysts and officials with South Korea also believe he might be suffering from sciatica or gout and as such, is undergoing extensive treatment from foreign doctors.
Pushing speculation further, bloggers are stating that Kim Jong-un could have been sidelined by older and disgruntled generals although there is no evidence to support these claims. At this point, no one really knows why Kim Jong-un is missing from the public eye and although most think there is nothing seriously wrong others have growing concern as more time passes.