As Kim Jong Un remains out of sight—and North Korean officials do unusual things like admit the country has labor camps—Pyongyang-watchers are starting to wonder who's running the place. Amid rumors of a "palace coup," a think tank run by North Korean defectors suspects that his 27-year-old sister Kim Yo Jong is in charge, at least while Kim recuperates from what some observers believe is gout or fractured ankles. Not much is known about Kim Yo Jong, the youngest of the leader's six siblings, but if she is indeed making national decisions, that "means there is something seriously wrong with Kim Jong Un and there is some sort of void that they're desperately trying to fill," an analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies tells CNN. He says she was first spotted at official functions earlier this year.
A surprise visit to South Korea by the country's No. 2 and No. 3 leaders last week fueled more rumors of Kim's downfall, but analysts believe that while there may have been a shake-up at the top, he is still at the top, at least as a figurehead, the Guardian reports. Kim's father and grandfather also dropped out of sight for long periods, so Kim's "disappearing act over the past month, in the North Korean context, is not an aberration," a North Korea expert at Tufts University tells the New York Times. "Such vanishing acts would be most unusual in democracies, but in totalitarian North Korea, Kim is the state. He is free to come and go as he pleases." Tomorrow is the 69th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers' Party—described by Reuters as a "key political event"—and analysts will be closely watching to see if Kim makes an appearance at his family's mausoleum as he has done the past two years.