Kim Jong Un’s government executed the leader’s uncle for treason on charges of plotting a coup, attempting to reform the currency, distributing pornography and more, and experts are divided over whether the violence indicates Kim “was consolidating his power ruthlessly—or that powerful groups within the elite were jockeying for power,” The Guardian reports.
Before his ousting, Jang Song-thaek was one of North Korea’s most powerful figures, regarded as a mentor to the youthful leader. State media announced the Jang’s fall from power in “thundering, vitriolic” fashion. Expert observers are trying to understand why the normally secretive government has made the case so public.
Accusations of factionalism or scheming are not in themselves new. “The most surprising and unprecedented thing is not that someone was planning to overthrow the state … but the implication that he had a substantial number of followers. That’s the first ever official admission of significant disunity in the North Korean state itself,” said Brian Myers, an expert on ideology at Dongseo University in Busan.
The lengthy, bombastic and at times downright bizarre report from KCNA took a scattershot approach to Jang’s crimes. It quoted an alleged admission by Jang that he sought to destabilise the country, triggering discontent among the military and others. He planned to become premier if North Korea approached collapse and use illicitly acquired wealth to ensure that “the people and service personnel will shout ‘hurrah’ for me” and his coup would succeed smoothly.
It also claimed he pursued a “decadent capitalist lifestyle” – squandering at least €4.6m in 2009 alone, including in a foreign casino – and deliberately hampered construction projects in Pyongyang.
Whatever the reason and whoever is responsible for Jang’s demise, more purges and executions are expected to follow. Jang’s name was edited from archives of state media reports and other names have vanished as well.