N. Korea's young leader firmly in power: Analysts

SEOUL - North Korea's new leader Kim Jong-Un has secured a solid power base in both the ruling communist party and the military despite his youth and meagre career credentials, analysts said Wednesday.

They said the North's elite has a shared interest in a stable transition to Jong-Un - the only choice at hand - and appears united in helping the new leadership put down roots.

The world is waiting to see whether Jong-Un will be a figurehead or forceful leader as he takes over the nuclear-armed nation from his late father Kim Jong-Il.

"Jong-Un has already established solid control over the military and intelligence authorities since he was anointed as successor to his father in September last year," said Paik Hak-Soon of Seoul's Sejong Institute think-tank.

The son, in his late 20s, was appointed to senior military and party posts in September 2010, paving the way for a third-generation hereditary succession after the late Kim succeeded his own father Kim Il-Sung in the 1990s.

Despite speculation about power struggles after Kim's death on December 17, Paik and other analysts said he had made careful arrangements as far back as early 2009 to secure his son's firm grip on the military and party.

North Korea Monday described Jong-Un as the "great successor" after announcing the death of his father at age 69.

Kim Jong-Un issued his first military order just before his father's death was announced Monday in an indication he already controls the armed forces, the South's Yonhap news agency quoted a government source as saying.

His Order No. 1 in the name of General Kim Jong-Un told all troops to stop military drills and return to base, the source was quoted as saying Wednesday.

"This is clear-cut evidence that Kim Jong-Un has secured a firm grip on the military," the official said.

State media repeatedly urged unity under Jong-Un, calling him "another great leader given birth to by Korea" following his grandfather and father.

"This clearly indicates that Jong-Un is already firmly in power," Paik said. "The regime seems to be quite stable under the new leadership."

Cheong Seong-Chang, also from the Sejong Institute and an expert on the succession, said it was unquestionable that Kim has "unwavering military backing".

Paik said the son would assume his father's official titles - ruling party chief and chairman of the all-powerful National Defence Commission - and the timing of this was just a technicality.

Through the two positions, the late leader controlled both the party and the 1.19-million-strong armed forces in the country of "Songun" (a military-first policy).

Kim Tae-Hyun of Seoul's Chung-Ang University agreed that Kim and his supporters, including his uncle Jang Song-Thaek, have a firm grip on party and military.

Jong-Un is further solidifying his power base but needs King Jong-Il's title's soon since he lacks his father's authority and charisma, said Kim Yong-Hyun of Seoul's Dongguk University.

He said he was not expected to follow his father's example in observing a three-year mourning period before formally taking over top posts.

Kim said the new leader must turn around the economy in the hungry state to command the public support enjoyed by the two predecessors.

Professor Yun Duk-Min at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security has said the North is likely to open its state-directed economy wider under the new leadership.

Cheong of the Sejong Institute agreed that Jong-Un, who studied in Switzerland for four and half years and saw market economies in operation, is more likely than his father to adopt pragmatic approaches.

Little is known about the new leader and even his birth date is unclear. Cheong said it was January 8, 1983.

Many analysts agreed the new leadership was likely to take a more cooperative stance on stalled six-party nuclear disarmament talks because it needs massive economic aid next year.

The North has vowed to build a "strong and prosperous" state by 2012, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-Sung, and has promised to ensure that all its 24 million people eat "white rice and meat soup".