Magazine | Politics | East Asia

North Korea: What Now?

Nothing new came out of Pyongyang’s rare Party Congress. Can Kim Jong-un have his yellowcake and eat it too?

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North Korea: What Now?
Credit: KCNA, Reuters

The Seventh Congress of North Korea’s ruling Workers Party (WPK), held “with splendor” (as official media put it) in Pyongyang on May 6-9, was a damp squib. It had been announced back in October, though, with typical furtiveness, the exact date was only revealed on April 25.

This was the first full Party Congress in 36 years. Back in 1980, before the current Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un was even born (he is 33), the Sixth Congress unveiled his father Kim Jong-il – himself the thitherto unseen son of the DPRK’s founder Kim Il-sung – as the latter’s chosen successor. That was a shocking monarchical twist on communism at the time.

Thereafter such meetings lapsed. The second Kim evinced scant concern for due process, or indeed the Party. During his reign (1994-2011) the Central Committee (CC) never met; elderly Politburo members died but went unreplaced. While the WPK atrophied at the top – at the grassroots, its grip on the populace remained tight – the Korean People’s Army (KPA), buoyed by Kim’s military-first policy (Songun in Korean), all but usurped the Party’s political ascendancy.