North Korea Holds First Party Congress Since 1980May 9, 2016 in North Korea
On 6 May, North Korea held its most important political gathering in a generation, where Kim Jong-un will cement his status as leader. The first full congress of the ruling party in 36 years was closely watched for any shift in poliies or changes in political leadership. It is believed that Mr Kim will reassert his nuclear ambitions, amidst growing speculation that he will soon conduct a fifth nuclear test.
It was the seventh meeting of North Korea’s Worker’s Party and the first to take place since 1980. It was held inside the April 25 House of Culture, which was covered in vast red and gold banners and massive images of the current leader’s father and grandfather. While foreign media were invited, they were not allowed inside the venue. This year’s event was shrouded in secrecy, with about 100 foreign journalists invited, with sources disclosing that reporters were closely monitored. Instead of being allowed into the congress, reporters were taken on a tour of a factory.
The capital city was spruced up ahead of the event, with citizens laying flowers in central squares as the gathering got underway. The streets were lined with National and Workers’ Party flags with banners that read “Great comrades Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il will always be with us” and “Defend the headquarters of the Korean revolution at the cost of our lives.”
The agenda and duration of the event is not know however experts have indicated that Kim Jong-un is likely to declare his so-called “byongjin” policy, which is the simultaneous push towards economic development and nuclear capability. The meeting could also see a new generation of leaders put in place. The meeting will elect a new central committee, which appoints a Politburo – the central decision-making body of the Communist party – and many have indicated that loyalists to the current leader will be rewarded with high profile positions. Who he chooses will be carefully monitored. In 2013, Kim Jong-un had his uncle executed for “acts of treachery” and there have followed many reports of purges of high profile figures in the establishment. Some experts have indicated that Mr Kim’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, with whom he attended school in Switzerland, is tipped for promotion. Many observers will scrutinize announcements carefully to evaluate the North’s commitment to a planned economy and hits at reform, however the congress is also being seen as the public stage for Kim Jong-un to define his leadership for the years to come.
No congress was held during the rule of Kim Jong-un’s father, Kim Jong-il. His death in 2011 brought Kim Jon-gun to power when he was still in his twenties. The 1980 congress, which was held before Kim Jon-un was born, saw Kim Jon-il presented as successor to the North’s founding leader Kim Il-Sung. Despite his death in 1994, Kim Il-Sung, who has been named North Korea’s “eternal president,” still officially presides over the latest congress.