A congress of the North Korean Workers Party on Wednesday to mark the centenary of nation founder Kim Il-sung is expected to complete the ascent to power of new leader Kim Jong-un when it makes him party secretary. Kim junior succeeds his father Kim Jong-il, who died suddenly in December.
◆ Rare Party Congress
Workers Party representatives have convened only three times since the party was established in 1945. Kim Jong-il convened the last representatives' meeting on Sept. 28, 2010 to announce the dynastic transfer of power to Jong-un, his third son. This time, Kim Jong-un is likely to be appointed to the post left vacant by his father.
North Korea watchers say there would be no need for another party congress so soon unless Kim Jong-un is appointed general secretary. The state-run Rodong Sinmun daily in an editorial last Thursday supported Kim's appointment, which makes it practically a foregone conclusion.
Kim would concurrently hold the positions of chairman of the party's Central Military Commission and chief of the executive committee of the Politburo, cementing his control of the military and the party's highest decision-making body.
By contrast, it took Kim Jong-il three years after the death of his father Kim Il-sung to be made party secretary in 1997. "If Kim Jong-un becomes party secretary, this would show how urgently he needs to consolidate his grip on power," said Ryu Dong-ryeol at the Police Science Institute.
◆ Loyal Support
The party congress will show which officials will play key roles in the Kim Jong-un regime. In focus is likely to be Choe Ryong-hae, son of the former minister of the People's Armed Forces Choe Hyon, a close comrade of Kim Il-sung during his days as a partisan fighter. Choe was recently promoted to the rank of vice marshal.
Another key figure is Kim Jong-gak, the first deputy director of the General Political Bureau of the North Korean People's Army, who has been promoted to minister. The names of the two officials became much more prominent in a roll call at a recent political event.
Choe, who had ranked around 10th in North Korea's political hierarchy until now, was named third ahead of Gen. Ri Yong-ho, the chief of the Army's General Staff. Kim Jong-gak (fifth) came ahead of Vice Marshall Kim Yong-chun (sixth), a former minister of the People's Armed Forces.
"There is a strong chance that Choe Ryong-hae at 62 will lead a generational shift by becoming the youngest standing member of the Politburo," said Chung Sung-jang at the Sejong Institute.
Two major figures behind the throne are Kim Jong-un's aunt Kim Kyong-hui and uncle Jang Song-taek, who was also considered the eminence grise of Kim Jong-il's reign.
Some here wonder whether the fact that the party congress coincides with the general election in South Korea points to an attempt to influence the election here, but a government official in Seoul dismissed the speculation. "The date seems to have been set in view of the schedule for other events," he added. The Supreme People's Assembly, the North's rubber-stamp parliament, meets on Friday, and the Cabinet, National Defense Commission and other organs are expected to undergo a drastic organizational shakeup.
The main point of interest is the fate of the National Defense Commission. It was the highest decision-making body under Kim Jong-il, who invented the songun or military-first doctrine, but its importance has been waning since Kim senior's death.
The prevailing view is that the post of head of the commission will be left vacant in honor of Kim Jong-il and the commission itself dismantled, while Kim junior rules through the party's military committee.