North Korea’s ruling party will convene a rare meeting of its political bureau in September to elect new leaders, Pyongyang’s official media reported yesterday.
It will be only the third such meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) since the communist state was founded in 1948 and will likely designate leader Kim Jong-il’s son as his political heir, analysts said.
The session would be “for electing its [the party’s] highest leading body,” said an announcement carried by the North’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
“The Political Bureau of the WPK Central Committee decides to convene early in September, Juche 99 [the year 2010], a conference of the WPK for electing its highest leading body,” KCNA said.
Analysts said the conference would have enormous political significance and would raise the status of Kim Jong-un, 27, Kim Jong-il’s youngest son.
“This is an extremely rare meeting,” Inje University professor Kim Yeon-chul said, adding that the two previous sessions were held in the 1950s and 1960s.
Dongguk University professor Kim Yong-hyun said the conference would be the most important party event since 1980, when a full-fledged convention of all members made public Kim Jong-il’s status as Kim Il-sung’s successor.
“There will be an important reshuffle of the party’s official posts aimed at preparing for an eventual succession,” he said.
Speculation about succession in North Korea has intensified after Kim Jong-il, now 68, suffered a stroke in August 2008, but he has since recovered sufficiently to allow him to return to work.
University of North Korean Studies professor Yang Moo-jin said the conference was part of a series of events aimed at reshuffling the country’s military, party and the government.
Over the past year, North Korea carried out personnel changes at the powerful National Defense Commission chaired by Kim Jong-il and reshuffled its government cabinet.
“The September meeting, which is aimed at reorganizing the party leadership, will wrap up the reshuffle,” Yang said. “We cannot rule out the possibility that the party may anoint Jong-un as successor behind closed doors.”
However, the North is likely to wait until 2012 before it makes public the son’s status as his father’s official successor, Yang said.
North Korea has vowed to build a prosperous socialist state by 2012, when it celebrates Kim Il-sung’s 100th birthday.
South Korea’s spy chief said this week that Kim Jong-il’s poor health is driving him to speed up preparations for the transfer of power to Kim Jong-un.