Has there been a coup in North Korea? The Guardian reports that he has missed several high-profile events in the last several weeks, and was last seen with a pronounced limp. There are unconfirmed reports of a palace coup, and Kim’s absence at the victory parade in Pyongyang for North Korean athletes after the Asian Games has only fueled speculation that the thirty-one year old has been deposed, or at the very least is locked in a power struggle with rivals.
Chief among those rivals is Hwang Pyong-So, a member of North Korea’s Organization and Guidance Department (OGD), who made a surprise appearance in Seoul at the closing ceremony of the Games. “For many commenters, Hwang’s surprise appearance at the closing ceremony of the Asian Games was enough to provide evidence of Kim Jong-un’s downfall – both because of Hwang’s seniority and the unlikeliness of his trip to the south. Neither of Hwang’s two public titles, director of the Korean People’s Army general political department and vice-chair of the National Defence Commission, have anything to do with sport. His position within the OGD is not well known, but the fact that a person with these ties would appear in the heart of South Korean territory was seen as proof of a powerful shake-up at the top.” Meanwhile, at a meeting of North Korean exiles in Holland, a high-ranking defector claimed that the OGD has seized power. Of course, it is possible that Kim is out of sight simply because he is receiving medical treatment. South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo reports that he had surgery after fracturing both of his ankles “during a grueling tour of military bases and factories in Cuban heels.” And Yonhap writes that Kim, who smokes heavily and who has gained a lot of weight since assuming power, is “suffering from gout, along with hyperuricemia, hyperlipidemia, obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure.” His sister, Kim Yo-Jong, “who acted as an aide to their father Kim Jong-il during his final years, is signing off on decisions in his absence,” according to the Guardian. Let’s face it, in a dictatorship that is notoriously isolated and secretive, rumors of internal power struggles go with the territory.