The political anointment of North Korea's heir apparent, Kim Jong-un appears to have received the thumbs down from an unusual source: his outspoken big brother.
Kim Jong-nam, the eldest son of the aging dictator Kim Jong-il, said he opposed another generational handover of power to his young sibling, who was recently catapulted from obscurity to senior military and political rank.
"Personally, I'm against the three generations of hereditary succession," Jong-nam told Japanese television over the weekend. "But I also think there were internal factors behind the decision, and if it is the case, then we should follow that."
Widely considered the black sheep of the Kim dynasty, Jong-nam, who is thought to be 39, spends much of his time in China and the gambling resort of Macao. He has a different mother to both of his younger brothers, which may have prejudiced his succession, and is reported to have fallen out with his father following a now infamous attempted 2001 excursion to Tokyo Disneyland on a forged passport.
Japanese camera crews regularly track him down in Macao, but his recent comments are considered unusually frank. He told TV Asahi that he is "not interested in becoming the next leader. It was father's decision to name Jong-un as his successor" adding: "There is nothing to regret. I have not taken any interest in it and I don't care about it at all." Asked to send a message to Jong-un, he said: "I hope my brother does his best to make the lives of North Koreans better."
The comments appear to contradict another interview he gave with TV Nihon , in which he said he was "happy" for his half-brother. "My father has appointed him as a successor so that must mean he likes him very much." Other Japanese media have carried unconfirmed reports that the oldest of the siblings has been effectively exiled from North Korea.
Analysts are watching North Korea closely for signs that its leader may have overreached in attempting to hand the keys to the nuclear-armed country to his young, untested son. Jong-un is believed to be in his late twenties and has no military or political experience.
Many defectors say a successful transition is unlikely. "The possibility of the Kim Jong-un succession system being established smoothly in North Korea is lower than 10 per cent," warned the Seoul-based online newspaper Daily NK, which runs informants in the North.
Reports say anti-Kim criticism is growing in some parts of the isolated Stalinist nation, following Jong-un's political coming-out at a Workers' Party conference last month. A source with the US-funded Radio Free Asia said this week that slogans had appeared on walls in the city of Chongjin saying: "Let's prey on both the piglet and the mother pig!"
Despite his lack of enthusiasm for the hereditary handover, Jong-nam seemed to offer the hand of friendship to his younger brother in his TV Asahi interview. "I am prepared to assist my brother from abroad whenever he needs it. I will help him anytime."