North Korea to convene first ruling party congress in 35 years

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waving during a celebration of the ruling Workers' Party's 70th anniversary, in this undated photo released by the Korean Central News Agency on Oct 12, 2015.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waving during a celebration of the ruling Workers' Party's 70th anniversary, in this undated photo released by the Korean Central News Agency on Oct 12, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (AFP) - North Korea announced on Friday (Oct 30) that it would convene a congress of its ruling Workers' Party for the first time in 35 years, reviving a forum last gathered under the rule of current leader Kim Jong Un's grandfather, 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 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 it would provide an opportunity to signal any significant policy shifts or reshuffle the party leadership.

The last congress was held way back in October 1980 under North Korea's founding leader - and party supremo - Kim Il Sung.

Kim Il Sung's son and successor Kim Jong Il never called a congress and next year's gathering will also be the first for third generation Kim dynasty leader Kim Jong Un.

The decision is clearly partly attributable to the fact that this year is the 70th anniversary of the ruling party's founding - a milestone marked with a massive military parade and multiple celebrations in Pyongyang earlier this month.

The Worker's Party was originally conceived, under Soviet patronage, as a classic communist entity guided by Marxist-Leninist ideology.

But as the leadership of Kim Il Sung spawned a personality cult that went into overdrive in the late 1960s, it was redefined as the party of the leader, and has remained so ever since.

After Kim Il Sung's death in 1994, Kim Jong Il instituted a "military first" policy that saw a shift in influence from party officials to the generals.

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