June 29, 2017
North Korea Begins First Ruling Party Congress In 36 Years

North Korea opened the first congress of its ruling party in 36 years on Friday, a major political event expected to consolidate power around supreme leader Kim Jong-un.

The Workers' Party of Korea (WPK), the ruling party of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), commonly referred to as North Korea, has not held a congress since 1980. This will be the party's seventh congress, and the first under Kim Jong-un. Although the country's most important political meeting in decades is being held behind closed doors, it is expected to cement power around Kim, and to showcase the country's unity and stability in spite of increasing diplomatic isolation and crushing international sanctions.

The congress is expected to last through the weekend, and Kim is expected to deliver the keynote speech. Though not much is known about the agenda, the congress is the highest decision-making body of the country where the ruling party sets new state and economic policies. The meeting is a chance for the relatively young Kim to boost his standing, consolidate the core leadership around himself, and bolster the personality cult that has kept the Kim family in power for nearly seven decades.

The last Workers' Party congress was used in a similar manner to crown Kim's father, Kim Jong-il, as the designated successor to North Korea's first leader, national founder and "eternal president" Kim Il-Sung. Over 3,000 party officials and observers have gathered inside the April 25 House of Culture, named after the founding date of the Korean People's Army.

"In this year of the seventh party congress, the military and the people accomplished the great success in the first hydrogen bomb test and the launch of an earth observation satellite, Kwangmyongsong-4, to brilliantly illuminate the prowess of Juche Joson," Kim said, according to Reuters, referring to the DPRK's official ideology of Juche, which combines Marxism and nationalism. "Unprecedented results have been accomplished."

The North Korean leadership has a long history of keeping state matters secret. Foreign journalists were invited to the capital city of Pyongyang to observe the event, but were not allowed inside the building where the event is taking place, according to ABC News.

"More than 100 foreign journalists — brought in to give the event a global audience — were bussed to the venue but were allowed to view it only from outside. No one but presumably the thousands of delegates and officials were allowed inside the ornate April 25 House of Culture, draped in red party banners and flags."
State-run media has been praising Kim for his achievements in North Korea's recent nuclear test and various ballistic missile launches, which violated United Nations sanctions. Analysts expect the seventh party congress to focus on further advancing the policy of developing nuclear weapons and emphasize the North's status as a nuclear state.

It is unknown at this time whether the North Korean leadership will lay out a plan for the further development of the country's suffering economy. What is for certain is that the congress will focus heavily on the power and authority of Kim Jong-un, who seemed to channel the image of his famous grandfather, as the Associated Press reported.

"Kim wore a black dress suit, grey tie and horn-rimmed glasses that resembled the ones worn by his late grandfather and North Korean founder, Kim Il Sung. He praised the January nuclear test and a February satellite launch, seen by outside governments as a banned test of dual-use missile technology, saying they demonstrated the nation's 'dignity and power at the highest level.' He also praised the outcome of a recently completed 70-day 'loyalty campaign,' in which workers nationwide were called upon to put in extra hours to boost productivity."
The capital city of Pyongyang has reportedly been decorated with national and party flags for the event, and parades and rallies are scheduled to take place in Kim Il-Sung Square during and after the congress, for which tens of thousands of people have been practicing for months.

[Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images]