This week North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un capped years of political maneuvers, purges and executions by assuming the post of party chairman, declaring it the start of the "Kim Jong Un era."
The event was widely seen as cementing his leadership role, but analysts in Washington and Seoul say that revitalizing the North's ailing economy appears to be the key to maintaining his long-term rule.
Ken Gause, Director of the International Affairs Group at the Center for Naval Analyses, said fixing the country’s economy will be major challenge.
"He has to show some sort of progress on the economy. I believe that is intimately linked to his ability to consolidate his power," said Gause, who is following the North Korean leadership closely.
With international sanctions increasing, mismanagement of the already crippled economy could lead to tensions in the regime, according to the North Korea expert.
Gause said the reshuffle of top officials and policy announcements at the party gathering showed Kim still needs more time to fully consolidate power.
"I would argue that this is a step toward consolidation of power. But he has still not fully consolidated his power and that’s probably going to take another year or so," he said.
Gause said Kim’s nuclear policy is a major obstacle to the country’s economic development.
"Ultimately what North Korea wants to do is to be able to engage the United States and South Korea without preconditions, which means without having the denuclearization issue standing in the way," said Gause.