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All Hail the Great Successor

North Korea is the world's last and only hereditary communist dictatorships and has been in the news spotlight for all the wrong reasons over the past decades. It is believed to have torpedoed a South Korean naval vessel in March 2010, killing 46 South Korean sailors. In November of that year, an unprovoked artillery attack on Yeonpyeong island close to the North Korean naval border caused the death of one soldier and wide-spread injuries and damage to property.

North Korea's military nuclear programme has long been a point of deep concern and a cause of regional instability since it was first launched under the country's founder and "Great Leader" Kim Il-sung in the 1970s. His son and successor, Kim Jong-il, decided to up the stakes on the nuclear front and by November 2006 the regime felt confident in announcing that it had successfully conducted a nuclear test.
Despite the regime's best attempts to control the outflow of information from North Korea, it is widely believed that Kim Jong-il's health started to deteriorate rapidly following a stroke in 2008 which led to his absence at the 60th anniversary parade in Pyongyang that month. After a second stroke in November 2008 and reports suggesting that he was suffering from pancreatic cancer the propaganda machine briefly went into overdrive, broadcasting videos of the Dear Leader visiting factories and public events.

As the impending demise of the man known to his compatriots variably as 'Our Father', 'The General' and simply 'Generalissimo' became ever more inevitable, speculation as to the likely succession started hotting up. This was finally put to rest when Kim Senior promoted his youngest son, a round-faced 20-something Kim Jong-un, to the post of General of the North Korean Army and in September 2010 father and son appeared side by side at the leading Worker's Party's 65th anniversary celebrations.

On 19 December 2011 North Korean Television officially announced the passing of Kim Senior from a heart attack while travelling on a train near the capital Pyongyang and encouraged the country to coalesce around Kim Jong-un, henceforth to be known as 'The Great Successor'. Though it is unlikely that North Korea will experience any form of power struggle within the ruling party, The Great Successor may, for a time, be mentored by his uncle Chang Sung-taek until he adapts to leading the country.

Tensions across the Korean Peninsula have remained consistently high over the past decade and relations with China, North Korea's chief ally and its main source of much needed food, fuel, arms and other technology, have soured somewhat since North Korea's nuclear brinkmanship has started to threaten regional stability and trade.

Once the funeral of the communist country's second leader on the 28 December and a day of mourning thereafter have passed, the big questions of North Korea's future at a time of food shortages and economic decline will become ever more pressing, potentially testing the Great Successor's ability to succeed.
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