N. Korea's first party congress in 35 years

A mass parade in Pyongyang on Oct 10 to mark the 70th anniversary of the Workers' Party. The party emblem, which bears the communist hammer and sickle, also incorporates a calligraphy brush to symbolise the working intellectual.
A mass parade in Pyongyang on Oct 10 to mark the 70th anniversary of the Workers' Party. The party emblem, which bears the communist hammer and sickle, also incorporates a calligraphy brush to symbolise the working intellectual.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Milestone gathering of ruling Workers' Party next May could usher in key policy shifts

SEOUL • North Korea has announced it will convene a congress of its ruling Workers' Party for the first time in 35 years - reviving a forum last held under the rule of founding leader Kim Il Sung.

The congress - only the seventh since the official founding of the party in 1945 - will be held in May next year, the party central committee's politburo said yesterday in a statement carried by the North's official KCNA news agency.

The statement gave no specific indication of what the congress would discuss, although it mentioned the need to "further strengthen the party... and enhance its leading role".

Observers said the event would provide an opportunity to signal any significant policy shifts or reshuffle the party leadership.

The last congress was held in October 1980, under party supremo Kim Il Sung. His son and successor Kim Jong Il never called a congress.

Next year's gathering will be the first for his grandson and current leader Kim Jong Un.

Clearly, the decision arose partly because this year is the 70th anniversary of the founding of the ruling party - a milestone marked with a massive military parade and multiple celebrations in Pyongyang earlier this month.

The Workers' Party was conceived, under Soviet patronage, as a classic communist entity guided by Marxist-Leninist ideology. But the leadership of Kim Il Sung spawned a personality cult that went into overdrive in the late 1960s, so it was redefined as the party of the leader, and has remained so ever since.

After he died in 1994, his son instituted a "military first" policy that saw a shift in influence from party officials to generals.

When Mr Kim Jong Un took over following his father's death in 2011, the party regained some lost ground - he replaced scores of powerful military commanders and forged alliances with influential party officials.

On Thursday, the two Koreas jointly held a workers' football match at the May Day Stadium in Pyongyang - a move said to be aimed at improving inter-Korean relations and strengthening national solidarity.

Mr Kim Tong Man, who chairs South Korea's Federation of Trade Unions, said the match marked a great stride forward for workers in realising their desire for peaceful reunification.

A digital screen inside the stadium read: "Compatriot workers from the South, you are welcome to Pyongyang to take part in the North-South workers' football match for national reunification!"

The whole stadium burst into thunderous applause when players from North and South stepped onto the field hand in hand and waved to the spectators.

The 162-strong South Korean delegation flew to Pyongyang on Wednesday and will return today.

The last time the two sides hosted such a match was in 2007, at Changwon in South Korea.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2015, with the headline 'N. Korea's first party congress in 35 years'. Print Edition | Subscribe