Things to know about the North’s 7th congress

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Things to know about the North’s 7th congress

North Korea’s elite are gathered in Pyongyang ahead of their biggest political conference in decades. As usual, the regime is keeping the details secret, but there are several things to know about the conference:

What is it?

The party’s highest-level decision-making body will determine key state policies, review past projects, reshuffle top officials and revise party regulations. All six previous congresses came under the rule of Kim Il Sung, the late grandfather of Kim Jong-un and North Korea’s founder, who died in 1994.

The most recent congress was held in 1980 for five days, with delegations from 118 countries including China, the Soviet Union, Zimbabwe, Guinea and Romania. The fifth congress in 1970 lasted 12 days.

South Korea’s spy agency said last week that North Korea hadn’t invited any major foreign government delegations to this year’s congress. There will be Western journalists, though, to cover the heavily stage-managed event.

Why the 36-year gap?

The Workers’ Party is supposed to hold a congress every five years. But after the 1980 meeting, Kim Il Sung reportedly ordered that the next congress take place only after the government improved public livelihood and its ability to provide its people with rice and beef soup for every meal. Instead, a devastating famine in the 1990s is estimated to have killed hundreds of thousands.

Since then, North Korea has continued to struggle with poverty, malnutrition and a mismanaged economy. Kim’s Il Sung’s successor, Kim Jong-il, ruled for 17 years but never held a congress. Some analysts say the real reason for the gap was that Kim Jong-il’s cherished “military-first’’ policy withered the party’s authority.

Why now?

Kim Jong-un appears to be modeling his rule on his grandfather. He has adopted his hairstyle, gestures and party-oriented governing style. North Koreans may relish a return to Kim Il Sung’s style as North Korea was better off economically during his rule.

The country’s economic situation is believed to have improved, partly due to the rise of unauthorized street markets. South Korea’s central bank estimates that North Korea’s economy grew around 1 percent annually between 2011 and 2014. Kim Jong-un may have restarted the party congresses in part to show the world he rules a more stable country.

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