Reports in South Korean and Japanese media this week say North Korean
leader Kim Jong Il has named an heir. Speculation on who would take
over after Mr. Kim's death has risen ever since reports surfaced that
he suffered a stroke last year.
The latest report, coming from South Korea's Yonhap news agency, quotes someone it calls "a well-informed source", as saying North Korea's Leader Kim Jong Il has chosen the youngest of his three sons, Kim Jong Un, to eventually take control of North Korea.
Just two days earlier, a Japanese daily newspaper reported that a collective government will be formed with Kim Jong Nam, the eldest son of the leader Kim Jong Il, as head of state in name only.
With North Korea being one of the world's most secretive states, there is no way to verify these reports. And analysts who monitor Pyongyang's official propaganda have not noticed any changes that indicate a successor has been chosen.
Daniel Pinkston, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group in Seoul, says this is not the first time that Mr. Kim has considered his youngest son for the top position.
"Supposedly, people say he is close to this son," he said. "Of course, Kim Jong Il would have to, if this is his desire, then he will have to manipulate the system and take more actions to make that more likely."
If any of these reports turn out to be accurate, Leader Kim Jong Il's selection of one of his sons, might have to do with his deteriorating health.
Last year, after Mr. Kim failed to appear at a ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of his nation's founding, reports surfaced that he may have suffered a stroke. Pyongyang denied these claims, labeling them as lies concocted by the West. Then a French neurosurgeon, who claims to have treated Mr. Kim, confirmed the rumors and said the reclusive ruler was recovering.
Pinkston says we shouldn't count Mr. Kim out of the picture yet.
"People can have that type of health problem and fully recover and live for quite a long time. And all the indicators, all the signs indicate that he is in firm control and that he is healthy, and there are no problems," he said.
If any of Mr. Kim's sons do become North Korea's next ruler, it will be the second time in history that power has transferred from father to son in a communist nation. The first, was when Kim Jong Il himself ascended to power in 1994 following the death of his father, North Korea's founder, Kim Il Sung.