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All in the Family: Kim Il Sung’s Greatest Achievement

10:25 AM, Dec 20, 2011 • By ELLIOTT ABRAMS
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The accession to power in Pyongyang of Kim Jong Un, son of Kim Jong Il and grandson of Kim Il Sung, is a unique achievement in world politics. How many other non-monarchical regimes have managed to retain power through immediate succession for three generations?

Kim Il Sung

There are examples of fraternal dictatorships, or one anyway: the passing of power from Fidel to Raul Castro. There are several husband and wife teams, and this appears to be an Argentine specialty.  After Juan Peron died his wife Isabel took the presidency, from which she was evicted by a military coup two years later. (Evita predeceased Peron and had never been a public official.) More recently, Nestor Kirchner was followed by his wife Cristina, who was reelected this year for another term. Lest Americans become overly snooty about such practices, remember that Lurleen Wallace followed George as governor of Alabama. Nor is this unique: Gov. James Ferguson of Texas got his wife Miriam, better known as Ma Ferguson, elected governor twice in the 1920 and 1930s. (Nellie Tayloe Ross was elected governor of Wyoming in 1924 after the death of her husband, William, but that doesn't count. She got elected fair and square.) 

But inter-generational dynasties are more rare. Bashar al-Assad of course took power when his father Hafez died in 2000, but Hosni Mubarak's refusal to rule out his son Gamal as his successor was one of the factors that turned the Egyptian people against him. The same may be happening in Senegal, where President Abdoulaye Wade's efforts to have his son Karim succeed him are widely unpopular.  Muammar Qaddafi’s sons, an unappealing crowd to be sure, went down with him. Laurent Kabila, president of the Democratic of Republic of the Congo, succeeded his father Joseph at the tender age of 30 after the latter's assassination and is still president, though his re-election last month is being called crooked. In Asia, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek was followed in power on Taiwan by his son Chiang Ching-kuo—but after an interlude of three years, so that may not count. In the Philippines, Gloria Arroyo is the daughter of Diosdado Macapagal—but his term ended in 1965 and she was elected in 2001.  Hardly a hand-off.  Similarly, Benigno Aquino III was elected in 2010, while his mother Corazon's term ended in 1992. Of course, America had the Adamses and the Bushes, so this can happen in a democracy—though in neither case was succession direct.  

Husbands and wives, parents and children, dictatorships and democracies—but what of grandchildren? In free countries, there is but one example, the Nehru dynasty: Jawaharlal Nehru, his daughter Indira Gandhi, and her son Rajiv Gandhi have served as prime minister of India. Nehru was 1947-1964, Indira was 1966-1977 and then again 1980-1984, and Rajiv was 1984-1991. So succession was immediate from the second generation to the third, but not from the first to the second. 

That perfect record is the achievement of Kim Il Sung and his family, for as long as it lasts—days, weeks, or decades. And the late Kim Jong Il also arranged the earliest accession, for at 28 (best guess) the new leader is younger even than was Joseph Kabila. Kim Il Sung's dynasty will of course set other records too: most vicious, most totalitarian, most murderous. Its longevity is the curse of North Korea. With luck, young Un will be the last Kim—and soon.

And anyway the Indians may win the trophy with a fourth generation soon. Rajiv's son Rahul Gandhi is a member of parliament and general secretary of the Congress Party. It is worth rooting for him—if only to pull the championship away from the wretched, blood-soaked Kims. 

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