The country has announced a “great revolutionary surge” as it prepares for a regime change which could see Mr Kim’s son, Kim Jong-un, appointed as his successor.
North Korea will hold a party conference of its ruling Workers’ Party next week, for the first time since 1966, to elect its “supreme leadership body”.
Ostensibly the conference will appoint new blood into the North Korean bureaucracy, but the rarity of the event has convinced experts that Mr Kim, 68, could use the event to unveil his third son as his successor.
The elder Mr Kim travelled to China last month and may have sought China’s rubber-stamp over the transfer of power. China remains North Korea’s most important trading power and political ally.
If Mr Kim does hand over power, North Korea will continue to enjoy the apparent contradiction of being a centrally-planned Communist state with a hereditary dynasty in charge.
An announcement yesterday (tues) from the Korean Central News Agency, the mouthpiece of the government, said there would be a “new great revolutionary surge” and that all cadres in the country were “single-mindedly united” behind Kim Jong-il, whatever his decision may be.
The regime is “now ready to go ahead with its move to designate Kim Jong-Un as successor”, said Yang Moo-Jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. “The son is expected to take a key party post but that will not be made public for a while,” he added.
The meeting had been delayed since the beginning of September, causing many observers to wonder whether the elder Kim was facing an internal challenge to his choice of successor.
“It is possible that the North Korean elite is far less united than usually assumed, so some factions are seriously unhappy about the likely choice of successor or the expected composition of the new leadership,” said Andrei Lankov, a professor at Seoul’s Kookmin University.
Other analysts noted that the delay could have been triggered by the need to plan and stage-manage the succession and instruct cadres, who have been stationed in Pyongyang for two weeks in expectation of the meeting, about their roles in the event.
However, some observers note that the younger Kim, at 28, may not be ready to assume full control over North Korea and has not been groomed in the same way as his father. The younger Kim has instead been fast-tracked to leadership ever since his father suffered a stroke in 2008, leaving a question mark over his continuing rule.
Another possible option would be for Kim Jong-il to pass power to his brother-in-law, Chang Song-taek, as a regent while his son built his own power base. A bureaucratic reshuffling in 2009 helped to promote Chang, and the forthcoming conference could see him given further roles.
He is currently vice chairman of the National Defence Commission, a position considered second only to Kim Jong-il.