After 44 years, North calls top party meeting

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After 44 years, North calls top party meeting

North Korea plans to hold a meeting of core party delegates in September for the first time in 44 years, probably in preparation for a transfer of power from current leader Kim Jong-il to his youngest son, Pyongyang watchers said.

According to the official Korean Central News Agency on Saturday, the political bureau of the Worker’s Party - North Korea’s only political party - has scheduled the rare meeting in early September to reflect “new challenges” for a party going through “seismic changes.” The political bureau is the highest decision-making body within the party.

North Korea has held meetings of core party delegates to discuss pressing political issues and policies only twice before, in 1958 and 1966.

“It is highly likely that the matter of power succession will officially take center stage during the core delegates’ meeting, which will be the first large-scale political gathering since a party convention in 1980,” said Jang Yong-suk, political professor at SungKongHoe University.

“There will likely be a big reshuffle within the party to lay the groundwork for the power transfer.”

Koh Yoo-hwan, political professor at Dongguk University, said North Korea’s long-held “military-first” policies have allowed the military to grow disproportionately, and Kim may need to reorganize and beef up party mechanisms before a delicate power succession.

In recent years, Pyongyang has taken a series of steps to smooth the way for an unprecedented third-generational power transfer from Kim to his youngest son, Jong-un, 27, especially in light of Kim’s suspected stroke in 2008, experts said.

Intelligence officials in South Korea have said that Kim has relied more on his relatives - most notably younger sister Kim Kyong-hui and her husband Jang Song-thaek - to maintain his grip on power.

Kim Kyong-hui has been seen accompanying the leader on visits and she was given a senior post at the party’s industrial supervision agency after 2008.

North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly met earlier this month to name Kim’s brother-in-law Jang as vice chief of the National Defense Commission, the most powerful institution in the country.

Seoul’s National Intelligence Service chief Won Sei-hoon said last week that Kim Jong-un accompanied his father on recent visits to industrial and military installations and was “expanding his participation in policy-making.”

“Now there are sweeping campaigns to idolize Kim Jong-un by distributing songs and poems worshipping him and even holding recital competitions [for songs and poems],” Won told lawmakers on June 24.

A party convention, supposed to be held every five years, has not been convened since 1980 when Kim Jong-il was promoted to the powerful political bureau, putting him in a leadership role.


By Jung Ha-won [hawon@joongang.co.kr]

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