Kim Jong Un's tribute absence sparks speculation

SEOUL • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's conspicuous absence from commemorations for his grandfather Kim Il Sung's birth anniversary this week suggests he could be looking to emphasise his own authority over his family's legacy, analysts said.

The April 15 birthday of North Korea's founder is the most important celebration in the nuclear-armed country's annual political calendar, and is known as the Day of the Sun.

North Koreans are taught from birth to revere Kim Il Sung and his son and successor Kim Jong Il, father of the current leader. All adults wear badges depicting one or both men.

But Mr Kim's absence from any official reports on this year's commemorations led analysts to speculate that he wants to distance himself from the "cult of personality" surrounding the country's ruling dynasty.

The state KCNA news agency did not mention him in a report yesterday on senior officials visiting the Kumsusan Palace to pay the "highest tribute" to the two late leaders.

Since inheriting power in 2011, Mr Kim has always gone to the sprawling mausoleum on the outskirts of the capital on their birth anniversaries. But pictures in yesterday's Rodong Sinmun newspaper, the ruling party's official mouthpiece, did not show him attending, although a floral basket was draped with a banner bearing his name.

"Kim Jong Un wants to break away from the past, as well as the North's traditional cult of personality," said Mr Ahn Chan-il, a North Korean defector and researcher in Seoul.

"His message is that Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung's times are now over," he said.

The ruling party's claim to legitimacy has its roots in Kim Il Sung's fight against Korea's Japanese colonisers and, for years, North Korea's official propaganda has promoted Mr Kim Jong Un's resemblance to his grandfather, in appearance, manner and even handwriting.

But in another departure from normal practice, there appeared to be no outsize basket from Mr Kim before the two men's giant statues in Pyongyang on Wednesday, when citizens attended to bow before them.

"This could be part of North Korea's propaganda effort to distance Kim Jong Un from his grandfather's and his father's legacy and highlight his achievements for what they are," said Ms Rachel Lee, a former North Korea analyst in the US government.

PROPAGANDA PUSH

This could be part of North Korea's propaganda effort to distance Kim Jong Un from his grandfather's and his father's legacy and highlight his achievements for what they are.

MS RACHEL LEE, a former North Korea analyst in the US government.

Mr Kim last appeared in state media at the weekend, when he presided over a meeting of the Workers' Party political bureau last Saturday.

Ms Lee played down the possibility of his absence being related to coronavirus concerns, saying that he had been "quite active in recent weeks".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 17, 2020, with the headline 'Kim Jong Un's tribute absence sparks speculation'. Subscribe