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North Korea's Kim Jong-un not really in control, says brother

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Kim’s oldest brother, Kim Jong-Nam, living in the gambling enclave of Macao on the southeastern coast of China, hinted at the lack of confidence behind the campaign to glorify the new leader, according to a Japanese newspaper.

Rejected by his father as a successor more than 10 years ago, Kim Jong-nam reportedly talked about the buildup of his brother while expressing misgivings. Mr. Kim reportedly told the Tokyo Shimbun in an e-mail that he expected “the existing ruling elite to follow in the footsteps of my father while keeping the young successor as a symbolic figure."

It was “difficult,” he was quoted as saying in a burst of frankness that he has displayed in earlier encounters with the Japanese media, “to accept a third-generation succession under normal reasoning."

Kim Jong-nam was quoted in a newly published book by Japanese journalist Yoji Gomi as having been still more critical.In the book, entitled "My father Kim Jong-Il and Me," he said, "North Korea is very unstable" and "the power of the military has become too strong." Jong-nam, communicating in Korean by e-mail and in interviews with Mr. Gomi last year, is quoted as saying, "If the succession ends in failure, the military will wield the real power for sure."

That perspective from a close but clearly disillusioned relative jibes with the views of foreign analysts who wonder how long Kim Jong-un can last – or whether he can possibly take charge of his own destiny and that of his people.

“The efforts to put Kim Jong-un front and center immediately reflects a rushed succession process,” says Victor Cha, who directed Asian issues on the National Security Council during the presidency of George W. Bush. Mr. Cha, now a professor at Georgetown University in Washington, predicts that what he calls “a Potemkin leadership transition” in Pyongyang “will likely run into problems.”

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