North Korea party to pick new leadership
North Korea will hold a ruling Workers’ Party convention in September to choose a new leadership, state media said on Saturday, as leader Kim Jong-il seeks to pave the way for his youngest son to succeed him.
Kim suffered a stroke in 2008 and his son Jong-un is widely believed to be his favoured choice as the dynastic state’s next leader.
“The Political Bureau of the WPK Central Committee decides to convene early in September ... a conference of the WPK for electing its highest leading body reflecting the new requirements of the WPK,” the North’s official KCNA news agency reported.
The Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) is the ruling body of the reclusive state and Kim Jong-il serves as the general secretary, besides his official role as the chairperson of the increasingly powerful National Defence Commission.
Analysts said the role of the Workers’ Party has diminished over the past decades as the North put increasing focus on its military power, but the party’s ideology dictates political legitimacy of its leadership.
Kim (68) has also reshuffled the Defence Commission to put close aides sympathetic to dynastic succession on the panel.
At the same time, Pyongyang is under intense diplomatic pressure to concede responsibility in the sinking of a South Korean navy ship in March that killed 46 sailors and drove security tensions on the Korean peninsula to new heights.
Grooming a new leader
Jong-un has been tipped as the most likely successor to his father, but he has little experience and is believed to be only in his 20s.
But South Korea’s spy chief has been quoted as telling a closed-door session of a parliamentary committee this week that a campaign to boost his image has been ongoing behind the scenes due to concerns in Pyongyang about Kim’s poor health.
Kim himself began his official role to succeed his father and state founder by taking on a Workers Party title at a convention in 1980 when he was 38.
Becoming a standing member of the Political Bureau that year was widely believed to be the first step in establishing himself as an heir to Kim Il-sung, who died suddenly in the summer of 1994.
North Korea’s crumbling economy is presumed to have shrunk again last year because of pool harvests and UN sanctions imposed for its nuclear test that all but cut off what was once a lucrative source of hard cash by dealing in arms.
It faces further censure by the Security Council for the sinking of the South Korean navy ship.
South Korea and the United States have been pushing for a strong measure of condemnation and possibly more sanctions.