In yesterday’s big news, North Korea announced that its 4th Party Delegates’ Conference will take place in mid-April, just 19 months after the 3rd, in September, 2010. Issuing orders, the Politburo of the Central Committee confirmed that the backdrop to the conference is “Honoring for all time the sacred revolutionary life of comrade Kim Jong Il and his immortal revolutionary achievements whilst also uniting around comrade Kim Jong Eun so as to complete the work of Juche and the military-first revolution.”
Under revisions to the Party’s regulations passed back in 2010, the Party is able to appoint a Party General-Secretary via a Party Congress. This revision did not afford the same power to a Party Delegates’ Conference, but by allowing the appointment of ‘top leaders’ at a Party Delegates’ Conference, and since a Delegates’ Conference is simultaneously endowed with the power to make decisions between one Party Congress and the next, it does actually have the de facto power to appoint Kim Jong Eun, or anyone else, to the top Party role.
As if to make that fact abundantly clear, the 3rd Party Delegates’ Conference was used to both update and appoint vast swathes of the Party apparatus (Politburo members, candidate members and standing committee members, the Secretariat, Central Military Committee and Central Committee itself) but also to re-appoint Kim Jong Il as General-Secretary; it appears likely that the next one has been organized for Kim Jong Eun to ascend to the same throne.
But equally, whatever the internal procedural requirements in play, the fact that this conference is being held so early in Kim Jong Eun’s reign also implies an attempt to bolster his limited leadership credentials within the Party.
Kim Jong Il was able to wait out the early period after his father’s death without any similar political posturing, not merely because a lengthy period of mourning would have been deemed appropriate but also because of the leadership credentials he had built up in the preceding 20 years. Kim waited out three full years before becoming General-Secretary; there is no similar leadership mandate with Kim Jong Eun.
In addition, Kim Jong Il then weakened the Party by following the ‘military-first’ course after the death of Kim Il Sung. Before him, Kim Il Sung had maintained control over the people through his ‘Ten Principles for the Establishment of the One-Ideology System’ and by focusing on unity within the Party by prioritising its orders, decisions and policies. However, after Kim Jong Il came to power the priority was placed upon the military, which led to food shortages and economic debilitation which undermined Party authority.
It is a much-told story that North Korean citizens now earn their money through the jangmadang rather than via coveted membership of the Workers’ Party, and women looking for prospective suitors are said to value money over Party ID cards. Members of the Party itself have occasionally been prepared to wonder aloud whether it can continue to function properly now that the value of membership has dropped so far.
However, at this moment it is needed. The late former Workers’ Party secretary Hwang Jang Yeop once said that “The army can suppress the people with guns, but it can neither persuade nor organize them. The only solution is for the Party to become involved at some stage to establish the successor.” This insightful commentary points out very clearly the essential role of the Party in legitimizing the rise of Kim Jong Eun.
In the 2012 New Year’s Joint Editorial, it said, “What our Party needs to do today and for the future is firmly establish its sole system of governance.” It also stated, “We need to strengthen and develop our Party into a single entity infused with the singular will to follow the Leader unconditionally and strengthen our organizational and ideological unity.” This suggests that April will not only see Kim Jong Eun rise; it will also see further efforts to elevate and normalize Party functions, one of the best ways to buttress Kim Jong Eun’s ruling mandate.