But that changed after Kim Jong-il fell ill with a stroke in 2008. She and her husband raised their public profile, assuming more titles, and acted like parent-like figures as Kim Jong-un was groomed as heir apparent. After Kim Jong-il died, the couple further strengthened their power as they helped Kim Jong-un engineer purges of top officials to establish himself as supreme leader and continue the family dynasty.
Mr. Jang’s power became so expansive through the military and other key branches of the government that Mr. Kim felt threatened.
Mr. Kim had him executed on charges of corruption, sedition and numerous other criminal charges in late 2013. He also ferreted out those close to Mr. Jang, who was accused of building a network of followers in the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, the government and the Korean People’s Army.
The executions of Mr. Jang and his followers were watershed moments for Mr. Kim’s efforts to establish himself as a monolithic leader. In 2017, North Korean agents plotted the assassination of Kim Jong-nam, Mr. Kim’s estranged half brother, in Malaysia. Mr. Kim may have regarded Kim Jong-nam, the eldest son of his father, as a potential threat to his throne at the family-run regime, analysts say.
It remained unclear whether, Kim Kyong-hui, 73, will resume an active public life. In North Korea, invitations to leadership gatherings — and how close people are placed to Mr. Kim — are often barometers of whether an official is favored in the government.
Before rumors emerged that she had been purged, her presence had been a powerful reminder to top generals of where the root of the regime lied, and she was even seen as a regent helping guide her nephew through the North’s treacherous internal politics to ensure a smooth generational change in her family’s dynasty. The offspring of those who fought to help Kim Il-sung, Mr. Kim’s grandfather, establish himself as top leader form the loyalist core of the elite in Pyongyang today.