North Korea installs new ‘kingmaker’ as concerns grow for Kim Jong-un’s health

North Korea's ruling party have installed a man to groom the dictatorship's new Supreme Leader amid concerns about the health of its current tyrant.

Rumours around the morbidly obese Kim Jong-un's health sparked feverish speculation that he had died last year when he missed the Day of Sun celebrations in April, the country's main national holiday.

A mysterious 'kingmaker' by the name of Jo Yong-won, whose official title is First Secretary, is now the despot's right-hand man.

It has even been suggested in the past that Jo himself would take over the reins of power, but a North Korea expert doesn't think so.

Michael Madden, who runs North Korea Leadership Watch, an affiliate of the 38 North watchdog, said Mr Jo could entertain no leadership ambitions himself.

"It would have to be a Kim [that succeeds as leader] and Jo Yong-won knows that," he said.

"Jo Yong-won would not have the position he has if Kim Jong-un and other people in the regime felt that he had personal ambition to assume the leadership."

However, the analyst said, Mr Jo could prove instrumental in the transition of power in the longer term.

"Then we can say that maybe Kim Jong-un is setting Jo Yong-won up as a kingmaker – as a person to help guide and shepherd a hereditary successor," he said.

As evidence Mr Madden cited Kim Jong-un's father, Kim Jong-il, who entrusted "five or six people" with sensitive policy portfolios towards the end of his life after suffering a mini stroke.

Mr Madden said Mr Jo's origins were obscure, but that he had most likely worked in the Organisation Guidance Department – the body which implements the orders of the leader.

The senior party official was also identified as the most prominent member of Kim Jong-un's entourage in 2016 and 2018.

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The lack of further biographical information suggests that Mr Jo, who was born around 1957, is from a military background, according to Mr Madden.

Rumours of Kim Jong-un's ill health have snowballed thanks to mounting circumstantial evidence.

He's thought to be a heavy smoker and drinker, whose height and weight mean he is morbidly obese, putting at him at greater risk of health woes.

Last year, he missed the Day of the Sun celebrations on April 15, being out of the public eye for North Korea's principal national holiday.

He only resurfaced after several weeks of absence, amid feverish speculation that he had died.

He's also believed to have slimmed down this year, though the cause of his rapid weight loss is uncertain.

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And in recent weeks, he was spotted with a large greenish spot or bruise on the back of his head, which was covered with a bandage in some photos.

However, Mr Madden believes that the appointment of Mr Jo is not necessarily indicative of any life-threatening health problems.

"What we're most likely looking at is that he's opted to lose weight on his own for the reason people all around the world that are obese lose weight.

"It's better for his cardiovascular system."

The analyst believes that Mr Jo's promotion is more to do with lightening the leader's workload by delegating responsibility.

It also creates a scapegoat, who can be blamed if North Korea is unable to resolve its crippling food crisis, or tackle insubordination among party officials.

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"When you're a politician and there are problems, you need somebody to blame," said Mr Madden.

"And if the s**t hits the fan in North Korea, who will Kim Jong-un blame? The first secretary, because that's his deputy."

But even so, Mr Madden agrees that the possibility of Kim Jong-un's death is another reason for the role.

"They're definitely making that decision with an eye on transition," he said.

"Why? Because air conditioners fall out of buildings, people fall in the shower and get a subdural hematoma and die of severe concussions, and people have heart attacks they were not expecting.

"So they definitely make a decision like this with an eye on a potential transition – with an eye that the leader might be incapacitated beyond repair or might die."

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