Kim Jong-un: Who Will Take Over as North Korea's Leader?

Questions are swirling around North Korea and its leadership following the reported death of Kim Jong-un. The nation's 36-year-old leader's fate is unconfirmed at the moment but it hasn't stopped many from speculating about what happens next if the controversial leader has truly passed on.

Kim Jong-un is the third supreme leader of the nation, following his father Kim Jong-il and North Korea's founder, grandfather Kim Il-sung. Many began speculating that something was wrong with the 36-year-old after he skipped the April 15 celebration of his grandfather's birthday. Missing such a major event raised alarms and supported reports that the leader was in "grave danger."

So who takes over? Most point to Kim Yo-jong, the supreme leader's sister and rumored "No. 2" in the government. Not only is she is a full blood relative of Kim Jong-un, keeping the family's 7-decade rule intact. That said, her presence as a female goes against the patriarchal leadership structure the nation has established since inception.

Since none of her brother's children are old enough for the leadership position, many see Kim Yo-jong as the favorite replacement. This is bolstered by the killing of Kim's half-brother Kim Jong-nam in Kuala Lumpur and brother Kim Jong-chol's reluctance for public and political life. The latter also holds the distinction of being labeled too "girlish" to lead by his father, Kim Jong-il according to Quartz.

Several extended family members could also be up for the position. Uncle Kim Pyong-il, 65, returned to the country in November after ending his diplomatic service in Europe. Even if he isn't a candidate for the supreme leader, his name has been shared as a possible guide or watchdog for Kim Yo-jong if she ascends. He has also survived, unlike former potential successor Jang Song-thaek who was executed for treason in 2013 after years serving the regime.

It is possible that Kim Jong-un's oldest son, born in 2010, could be the final choice after a period of regency involving Kim Yo-jong or a collective leadership group involving top officials. According to The Independent, anybody chosen to be next in line may only be keeping the seat warm.

"Kim now puts his younger sister, Kim Yo-jong in charge of many things, and she is the only sibling and trusted confidante inside his cabinet," Katy Oh told The Independent. "Ultimately, though, it is his son who would inherit the kingdom."


It will be interesting to see how the situation plays out. It is already quite different than the death of Kim Jong-il to this point, with no clear answers being reported.