North Korea's newly elected parliament convenes Saturday to elect Kim Jong Il president amid growing concern about the security threat posed by his isolated Marxist state.
In its inaugural session, the 680-member Supreme People's Assembly will elect Kim, and he is expected to be installed in office Wednesday, the 50th anniversary of the founding of North Korea in 1948.In assuming the presidency, Kim will inherit the office left vacant by his father, Kim Il Sung, who died in July 1994.
Since then, Kim has ruled North Korea as commander in chief of its 1.1 million-strong military and head of the ruling Workers' Party.
In a brief dispatch Friday, the North's official Korean Central News Agency reported the arrival of assembly deputies in Pyongyang.
Four years after his death, the elder Kim is still revered in North Korea.
So long and deep is his shadow that his son, known as the "Dear Leader," is not expected to radically change the nature of the regime he inherits. It will be communism's first hereditary power succession.
"For North Korea, it'll be a long time coming, but it will not bring any drastic change in the country's Cold War foreign policy," said Park Young-rim, a political science professor at Korea University.
Kim has changed little in North Korea since his father died. But the country might expand economic contact with the outside world, especially with South Korea, to earn badly needed hard currency, Park said.
At the same time, Park said, Kim is expected to carefully guard against the possibility of any economic opening causing instability in North Korea's tightly controlled society.
North Korea's economy is in shambles, forcing the country to rely on outside aid to feed its 24 million people.
Nearly 5 million North Koreans reportedly subsist in part on grass, tree bark and other food substitutes. Some international monitors believe that up to 2 million people have died of starvation in the past three years.