Daily NK has learned that North Korea is planning to go forward with a major personnel “shakeup” in advance of the Eighth Party Congress, which is expected to be held in January 2021. The plans appear aimed at “renewing” the atmosphere within the country before the regime moves forward with presenting a new five-year national economic development plan at the party congress.

According to a Daily NK source in Pyongyang yesterday, the authorities plan to dismiss those deemed responsible for failing to achieve the country’s economic plans as a way to “strengthen the authority of the Workers’ Party” and prevent the “masses from turning against [the regime] because of the country’s economic failures.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un acknowledged the failure of the country’s five-year national economic development strategy during a plenary meeting of the Workers’ Party this past August. He also announced that a new five-year national economic development plan will be presented at the Eighth Party Congress.

It is not unusual for North Korea to replace high-ranking officials around the time of a party congress. According to the source, however, this time is different because the leadership is planning to replace a large number of party and government officials throughout the country while facing a three-pronged crisis caused by international sanctions, the COVID-19 pandemic, and widespread flooding.

kim jong un kanggye tractor factory
Kim Jong Un made an on-the-spot visit to the Kanggye Tractor Factory in May 2019. / Image: Rodong Sinmun

Due to the difficulty of replacing all problematic officials at the same time, the leadership has reportedly chosen to replace low-level officials by the end of this year while waiting to replace high-level officials nearer to the party congress. According to the source, the replacement of low-ranking officials will begin after Party Foundation Day on Oct. 10.

“Nobody is safe from [the plans] to [replace] personnel,” the source told Daily NK. “The atmosphere in government agencies, factories and other businesses that have failed to achieve economic planning [objectives] is tense.”

The source also told Daily NK that cadres considered responsible for the country’s failure to to achieve economic objectives may face both dismissal and “legal punishment.” Some officials who have seen the writing on the wall are voluntarily resigning from their positions citing health-related issues. Resigning now, the source said, may prevent them from being expelled from places they have a “foothold.”

North Korean authorities expect there to be pushback toward its move to shakeup officialdom across the country. The leadership seems to believe, however, that it has no other choice: Punishing those considered responsible for the country’s economic failure is the only way to prevent damage to the authority of the Supreme Leader (Kim Jong Un).

“The Party’s Monolithic Ideological System is the country’s mass line, so [officials] have to unconditionally carry out whatever the Workers’ Party decides to do,” the source said. “The measure [to shakeup personnel] will go forward even if there is pushback from some quarters.”

The Rodong Sinmun reported on Tuesday that “Workers’ Party officials are undergoing a generational shift” and that “Party officials of the new generation [must] undertake Party affairs in a new, innovative manner.”

North Korea’s leadership is expected to continue to criticize the “bureaucratism” of party officials and highlight the need for them to reform before the personnel shakeup begins.

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