Seoul: North Korea`s ailing leader Kim Jong-Il appears to be paving the way for his youngest son Jong-Un to take over in what would be the hardline communist state`s second dynastic succession.
But barring a dramatic change of course, Jong-Un seems set to inherit a hungry, impoverished and sanctions-hit nation still locked in confrontation with the West over its nuclear ambitions.
Some analysts say the current regime is becoming increasingly unpredictable as Kim, 68, battles health problems and the economy crumbles.
A reshuffle announced on June 08 saw Kim`s brother-in-law Jang Song-Thaek, who acts as mentor to the young Jong-Un, appointed as a vice-chairman of the top decision-making body the National Defence Commission.
The move shows the North "is formalising and finalising its planned father-to-son power transfer", said Paik Haksoon of Seoul`s Sejong Institute think-tank.
It was unclear when Kim would step down. But Paik predicted the son would be formally designated as eventual successor in 2012, the year the country has set for becoming a "great, powerful and prosperous" nation.
In the meantime, prosperity is a mirage.
The North suffered famine in the mid-1990s which killed hundreds of thousands of people and it still grapples with severe food shortages. The UN children`s fund estimates one third of children are stunted by malnutrition.