In what appears to be a move aimed at “steadying the foundations” of North Korea’s communist party before Party Foundation Day on Oct. 10, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, recently ordered a new set of guidelines aimed at raising party membership requirements to be handed down to party committees and party cell organizations nationwide.

“About a month ago, the North Pyongyan Province Party Committee chairman submitted a petition to the Central Committee saying he thought the situation surrounding the recruitment and expulsion of Party members in the province is serious,” a source in North Korea told Daily NK on Tuesday. “Following this, Comrade Kim Yo Jong ordered the Organization and Guidance Department [OGD] to ensure that the Party is made up of [only] the most loyal of members, and then the OGD recently issued a set of guidelines to Party committees and Party cell organizations nationwide on raising the standards for joining the Party.”

According to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the petition submitted to the Central Committee by the North Pyongan Province Party Committee chairman included several points. First, the petition pointed out that a growing number of young people are reluctant to join the party because they believe membership entails being subjected to all-encompassing “control.” Second, the petition highlighted the idea that party membership has become regarded as the domain of the rich because membership is often obtained through improper means, such as having one’s wealthy parents donate money or “loyalty supplies.” The petition noted that the provincial party committee is attempting to rectify all these issues. 

The petition also pointed out that courts and prosecutors in the province are expelling members from the party for minor indiscretions with no consideration given to the context or truth of the allegations. Some party members have been happy to be expelled from the party, the petition said, while expulsion has made others more hostile towards the state. The petition described this situation as requiring urgent measures. 

KIM YO JONG SPRINGS TO ACTION

Upon receiving the petition, Kim Yo Jong immediately ordered the OGD’s Party Guidance Division and Party Membership Registration Division to thoroughly review “party guidance” and party recruitment guidelines, rearrange the party’s ranks, and promote greater loyalty among the party membership before Party Foundation Day, the source told Daily NK. 

The OGD then reportedly ordered all members of the party to submit a document describing the work they had performed “based on loyalty toward the Party” during the eight years since Kim Jong Un came to power. These documents must have the descriptions broken down by month, quarter and year. The OGD also ordered for party cell and elementary party meetings to be held before Oct. 10 and for these documents to be used as a basis for these meetings amid an “atmosphere of ideological struggle.” 

“Everyone is holding their breath and has little choice but to follow orders because there is tremendous pressure exerted by the directive to review [people’s] loyalty to the Party amid efforts to rearrange the Party ranks before Oct. 10,” the source told Daily NK. “It’s really questionable to ask everyone to remember everything they’ve done based on loyalty to the Party over the past eight years because people simply don’t remember.” 

The source pointed out, however, that people are fearful of being reproached if their statements are too vague. There are also concerns about being punished for showing a “lack of loyalty to the Party” if people claim they cannot remember what they did. According to him, party members “are saying they will just have to find ways to get through this crucial moment.”

kim yo jong
Kim Yo Jong at a meeting with US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo in 2018. / Image: US Department of State

The OGD released a set of detailed guidelines on party recruitment to all party committees and party cell organizations across North Korea. These guidelines stipulate that 1) “unprepared” individuals should not be nominated to become party members; 2) candidates’ loyalty to the party and ideology should be subject to stronger evaluations; 3) and, that people who have recommended more than five people who have then gone on to become expelled from the party should face political punishments so that they are held accountable for their recommendations. 

Notably, the OGD ordered that party membership candidates must wait three years, instead of the normal one year, to become full party members. The source explained that party rules denote a one-year period for being promoted from candidate to full member, but a three-year period is currently being applied even though the rules were never amended. This suggests that rules pertaining to membership may be partially amended at the Eighth Party Congress set to be held in January next year.

The three-year waiting period has [actually] been in place since March for members joining the Party from the Korean People’s Army,” the source said. “Since 80% to 90% of Party members have served in the military, the new rule was first tested on the military before it was recently expanded to all Party committees and Party cell organizations.” 

The new guidelines have been met with a mixed reaction among North Koreans. The move has been interpreted by some as saying that only those who have “purely” prepared for party membership will be admitted and that rearranging the party ranks based on education and persuasion represents Kim Jong Un’s “politics of magnanimity and virtue.” 

Others are frightened by the regime’s move to “take a knife” to the party membership and are saying that it is better just to join the General Federation of Trade Unions of Korea or Socialist Women’s Union of Korea, where it is easier to conduct private business activities.

PROBING THE PROBERS

Meanwhile, Kim Yo Jong has ordered the newly-established Organization Administrative Department (OAD), to investigate whether courts and prosecutors’ offices have been properly investigating the expulsion of party members for criminal acts over the past seven years. Given that the department’s predecessor, the Administration Department, which was managed by Jang Song Taek, was dismantled after Jang’s purge in 2013, Kim appears to have ordered an investigation into whether the courts and prosecutors have carried out stringent and accurate investigations into party members since that time.  

”Courts and prosecutors play a very important role in [whether] Party members are expelled because they conduct investigations that form the basis of reviews at security committees, which carry out the expulsions,” the source explained. “This is the first ‘project’ given to the OAD following its establishment, so there is talk that this will have a widespread impact on the country’s judicial authorities.” 

The OAD issued specific instructions to courts and prosecutors on sentencing for party members. Depending on their criminal record and the nature of the crime, wrongdoers are given “another chance” by being sentenced to forced labor as opposed to being sent to correctional labor camps. If a party member engages in further criminal acts even after this punishment, however, the relevant authorities are given permission to expel him or her from the party, the source said, citing the order. 

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Ha Yoon Ah is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.