Once again, a casual post at the Chicago Sun-Times QT leads me astray.
Japanese researcher says North Korea's Kim Jong Il died five years ago, with a double making public appearances ever since.
The source article is here. Naturally the evidence is pretty thin and there's no corroboration, but the idea does create questions. The first one - why would they do that? - is actually not too hard to at least speculatively answer. From what I can find, there's no anointed successor in place; none of Kim's sons has been given the seasoning that Kim was given. So this would be a way for the ruling elites to buy some time to put a succession together.
Would it work? The commentators I read seem skeptical. They would have to maintain the deception long enough to build up the reputation of the next guy which, given the extraordinary conditions there, shouldn't be completely ruled out. But secrecy there isn't what it once was, and things have gone so far down the tubes since the son took over from dad that it seems unlikely that the cult of personality can be held together with a grandson.
Could they try to maintain power without a Kim at the top? I think it would be problematic. After so many years with a godlike figure to grip the populace, the transition to a Politburo-type situation would be hazardous. No one was sad to see Stalin go, but his successors never had his grip on power, and even he didn't have the level of worship enjoyed by the Kim family. It might work for a while, but I can imagine the same rot from within that the Soviet Union experienced, especially since the conditions are so much worse.
Which brings up the big question; what then? The possibilities mentioned are a takeover by the North Korean military, Chinese intervention, general internal chaos, or - the best possible outcome - reunification similar to Germany. My inclination is to go with a military takeover at first, followed by intervention by someone from the outside who's willing to do the massive rebuilding it will take. The Chinese have been footing the military bill there; will they want to take over and clean up the mess, or let the South Koreans have it? Fear of a strong,united U.S.-allied Korea will probably motivate China to step in and try to keep the lid on,which would increase our motivation to help South Korea try to get a hand in there.
It's tough to see a smooth, happy ending to that, which may be why Asian markets suffer whenever there's a rumor of Kim's death or illness. They realize that, as disgusting as North Korea is now, it's likely to get worse before it gets better.