“The fog of rumors about Kim Jong Un’s health will clear up soon. But as of now, despite persistent rumors that the North Korean leader is seriously ill or even dead, the only two things we know with certainty are that Kim uncharacteristically missed the Day of the Sun public anniversary celebrations commemorating his grandfather Kim Il Sung’s birthday, and that his private train has been observed at the station in Wonsan, a fact the South Korean government cites to bolster its assertion that the North Korean leader is staying outside the capital but is not in the midst of a medical crisis.

“But even if Kim showed up tomorrow hearty and hale, with an alibi for his absence and a clean bill of health from his doctor, it’s clear that North Korea has a dangerous succession problem. Yes, it’s a resilient monarchical regime that has managed the succession process twice. But North Korea’s political system is a Frankenstein-like mash-up of models: It is simultaneously a hereditary monarchy, a Leninist dictatorship, a religious cult and a Mafia-style family racket. Its ideology requires that the ruler must be a direct descendant of Kim Il Sung — part of the so-called ‘Mt. Paektu bloodline…'”

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