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WhyItMatters

'Coming-out party' for Kim Jong Un

North Korea is set to hold its first national party congress in 36 years on Friday. Analysts say it would be an occasion for the country's leader Kim Jong Un to reaffirm his power, set his own agenda, and unveil a new and younger group of elite officials.

It will be an elaborate "coming-out party" for Mr Kim, who became leader of the ruling Workers' Party in 2012 after his father Kim Jong Il's death, said Dr Go Myong Hyun from The Asan Institute for Policy Studies. "Kim Jong Un seems to crave acknowledgement by his underlings but he has nothing much to show for. He may create a new title for himself to show that he's now his own man, he's out of the shadows of his father," he said.

Mr Kim Jong Il was named the country's next leader at the last party congress held in 1980. But he never held a congress during his 17-year rule from 1994.

Experts said there was no need for him to reaffirm his power as he was heir apparent for a long time and held important posts before he finally took over from his own father, Mr Kim Il Sung, the nation's founder.

 

The 33-year-old Kim Jong Un, in comparison, lacks experience as a leader and therefore finds it necessary to rally support for himself. It is telling that North Korea started a 70-day loyalty campaign in late February, urging its people to idolise Mr Kim and to work hard to complete infrastructure and other projects ahead of the congress.

Dr Go said Mr Kim is expected to replace the party's elite with younger officials who share his views and are more exposed to the outside world. Mr Kim might also make policy changes, he said, and a welcome move would be a shift in focus from nuclear development to economic reform. This could signal the country is ready to restart denuclearisation talks.

There is also speculation of a fifth nuclear test before the congress, but Dr Lee Sang Soo of the Korea National Defence University said Pyongyang will not risk offending its allies, China and Russia, which have objected to the North's nuclear tests.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 04, 2016, with the headline ''Coming-out party' for Kim'. Print Edition | Subscribe