PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — North Korea announced Saturday that Kim Jong Un has been officially named supreme commander of the military, further strengthening his authority after the death of his father, longtime North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.
Officials and state media have bestowed on Kim Jong Un, who is in his late 20s, a string of titles as North Korea’s elite rally around him in the wake of his father’s death this month after 17 years in power.
But the title Supreme Commander — and its formal proclamation by the powerful Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party — is a clear sign that Kim Jong Un is fast consolidating power over North Korea. It’s also the latest step in a burgeoning personality cult around him.
Kim Jong Un’s age and inexperience have raised questions outside North Korea about his leadership of a nation engaged in delicate negotiations over its nuclear program and grappling with decades of economic hardship and chronic food shortages.
But the North has moved quickly to show the world a unified face.
Kim Jong Un should be "the only center of unity, cohesion and leadership" of the Workers’ Party, North Korea’s state media said, and the 1.2 million-strong military should uphold the "songun," or military-first, politics laid down by Kim Jong Il.
The party said the country should unite around Kim Jong Un and strengthen "the monolithic leadership system of the dear respected Comrade Kim Jong Un throughout the party and society."
An unannounced Workers’ Party meeting Friday proclaimed that the younger Kim "assumed supreme commandership of the Korean People’s Army" according to a will made by Kim Jong Il on Oct. 8, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said in a statement early Saturday morning.
The meeting of the North’s ruling party came one day after the official mourning period for Kim Jong Il ended and senior military and political officials publicly declared Kim Jong Un leader of the party, military and people at a massive memorial for his father.
Titles are an important part of North Korea’s efforts to link Kim Jong Un to the myth-building surrounding the Kim family legacy.
Kim Il Sung, the country’s first and only president, retains the title Eternal President even after his death.
Kim Jong Il held three main positions: chairman of the National Defense Commission, general secretary of the Workers’ Party and supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army. According to the constitution, his position as chairman of the National Defense Commission made him Supreme Leader of North Korea.
Kim Jong Un was made a four-star general last year and appointed a vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party. Since his father’s death, he has picked up major titles from officials and state media: Great Successor, Supreme Leader and Great Leader. And now he has officially been named Supreme Commander.
Analysts said the moves show the power transition has been smooth and faster than anticipated.
"The proclamation is something that has been expected, but it is notable that it happened so quickly," said Kim Yeon-su, a North Korea expert at Korea National Defense University. He said North Korea was showing the world that its system was stable and "the elite remain united."
He said that next for Kim Jong Un in 2012 would be for him to be nominated as chairman of the National Defense Commission and to rise to the post of general secretary of the Workers’ Party.
Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said the succession was accelerating and stabilizing.
"It also shows the military-first rule will continue. The North was pressing ahead with steps for power transition regardless of the mourning period. That shows the country is united."
Choe Yong Nam, 48-year-old army officer, told The Associated Press in Pyongyang that he was confident with Kim Jong Un as supreme commander of the military. "As we were led by illustrious commanders of Mount Paektu, we have won only victories. I am sure that we will always emerge victorious as we have another great leader Kim Jong Un."
Paektu is the highest peak on the Korean peninsula that the North cites in propaganda to signify the Kim dynasty. It is also Kim Jong Il’s official birthplace.
An engineer with the 326 Electric Wire Factory, Kim Song Un, 54, said he did not expect any changes in the country’s policies. "We will keep to our path of the socialist cause of juche (self reliance) true to the leadership of Kim Jong Un in the future, as we did under the leadership of Kim Jong Il."
Associated Press writers Foster Klug, Scott McDonald and Sam Kim in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report. Follow AP’s North Korea coverage at twitter.com/APklug and twitter.com/samkim_ap.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.