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Kim Jong Un's loyalty problem: Picking Party Congress reps

Kim Ga Young  |  2016-04-05 17:04

As North Korea prepares for so-called elections to determine its representatives for the first Party Congress in 36 years, the Kim Jong Un regime is issuing threats via domestic and international channels based on nuclear tests, fearpolitik, and missile launches. In the midst of this, interest is mounting as to which representatives will be selected by the North Korean regime to attend the upcoming Congress session.

After the 6th Party Congress convened over three decades ago, the congress participants formed the backbone of the regimes vanguard, serving as the protectors of Kim family rule. For this reason, an understanding of the participant list for the upcoming meeting can provide hints on the future leadership direction of Kim Jong Uns rule.

It is customary for representatives to be chosen by municipal and county units who are then filtered through to the provincial level. Following this process, the Central Party ultimately makes the final selection. Most of the representatives are cadres at the city, country, or provincial level, or their trusted associates. An individuals relationship to the cadres who create the final list is a determining factor for selection, as they wield considerable influence over the process.

The list is then submitted for a higher level of deliberation by the central authorities. The Korean Workers Party [WPK] Organization and Guidance Department [OGD], in conjunction with the Organization Departments of the corresponding county, city and provincial WPK committees, evaluate each candidates work experience, service, party loyalty, family background, perception by others, and reputation in excruciating detail. If inconvenient facts about the candidate or his/her familys past is discovered (such as illegal behavior or party disloyalty), their name is stricken from the list.

Judging from the list of participants at the last Party Congress, the majority of attendees will be cadres who already hold important positions, such as party secretaries, committee secretaries, propaganda secretaries, etc. In addition, it is highly likely that regional leaders at key posts will also make it on the list, such as Provincial Department cadres and party members that oversee state-operated factories and enterprises.

It is also likely that those who have significantly contributed to Kim Jong Uns pet projects will make an appearance. This includes individuals who were involved in the construction of Future Science Street, those who were involved in the long range missile and nuclear tests, and those who were instrumental in setting up North Koreas nuclear power plant. 

Opinions are also emerging that Kim Jong Un might use the opportunity to further accelerate the generational shift in political power that has been implemented over the past four years through the political purging and execution of high-ranking cadres. In order to firmly establish the legitimacy and authority of Kim Jong Un, who took over five years ago, it is also expected that he will appoint young leaders who have displayed loyalty to him.

In relation to this, Asia Press, a North Korean specialty news outlet based in Japan, reported that an inside source from North Hamgyong Province stated that no cadres over 60 of age will be permitted to attend the Party Congress.  

This would be the first time that at an age limit has been placed on Party Congress representatives. However, it appears to be an extension of a similar move carried out in 2012 when male party members over the age of 60 and female party members over 55 were placed into the Honor Party Class, which was akin to forced retirement.

Among North Korea analysts, there are some who believe that by attempting to fill the domestic political scene with support from the younger cohort, Kim Jong Un is displaying a poor understanding of the political realities of his country. Firstly it will likely be difficult to expect inexperienced leaders to be able to simply transition into higher positions of authority without incident. Secondly, the evident general trend in the country is that younger North Koreans have less loyalty for Kim Jong Un.

A former high-ranking cadre who defected told the Daily NK on April 1, Even Kim Jong Il stressed the importance of unity of the old, middle aged, and the young. Mixing middle-aged and younger workers together made for efficient teams. These younger cadres have been sitting at their desk doing office work and havent had as much real world experience making decisions, so this may actually end up hurting Kim Jong Un more than it helps him.

The younger generation grew up in the 1990s and were heavily affected by the famine, and as such have a lower opinion of the state. Following this, they were hit hard by the currency devaluation that caused severe distress among the general population.

Thats why, the younger generation does not feel genuine loyalty to Kim Jong Un. You might even say that loyalty to the Kim family has been evaporating from the end of Kim Jong Ils reign and has continued into Kim Jong Uns reign. The people feel oppressed, he said. 

In point of fact, we dont know whether Kim Jong Un is actually banning cadres over 60 years old from the Party Congress. The cadres who currently constitute the Central Party are almost all over 60. Without their participation, it can hardly be called a Party Congress. I think that rumor does point to a trend that we can expect to see: more young representatives than weve seen in the past. It tells us that, going forward, Kim Jong Un is looking to cultivate loyalty among the younger generation. 

*Translated by Jonathan Corrado
*Edited by Lee Farrand

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