North Korea’s ruling communist party will convene a rare meeting of key party delegates in September to elect new leaders, Pyongyang’s official media reported Saturday.
It will be only the third such meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) since the communist state was founded in 1948 and will probably designate leader Kim Jong-Il’s son as his political heir, analysts said.
The session would be “for electing its (the party’s) highest leading body,” said the North’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
“The Political Bureau of the WPK Central Committee decides to convene early in September, Juche 99 (the year 2010) a conference of the WPK for electing its highest leading body,” KCNA said.
Analysts said the conference would have enormous political significance and raise the status of Kim Jong-Un, Kim Jong-Il’s little-known youngest son.
“This is an extremely rare meeting,” Kim Yeon-Chul, a professor at Inje University, told AFP, adding that the two previous sessions were held in the 1950s and 1960s.
Kim Yong-Hyun, a professor at Dongguk University, said the conference would be the most important party event since 1980, when a fully fledged convention of all members made public Kim Jong-Il’s status as Kim Il-Sung’s successor.
“There will be an important reshuffle of the party’s official posts aimed at preparing for an eventual succession,” he said.
Hours after the announcement, Canada said it was seeking a strong message at a meeting of G8 leaders condemning North Korea for allegedly sinking South Korea’s Cheonan warship in March. The North denies involvement in the sinking.
South and North Korea exchanged a barrage of cross-border accusations Friday as they marked the 60th anniversary of a war that killed millions of people and has kept the peninsula divided to this day.
Speculation about succession in North Korea has intensified since Kim Jong-Il, now 68, suffered a stroke in August 2008, but he has since recovered sufficiently to work.
Yang Moo-Jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, said the conference was part of a series of events aimed at reshuffling the country’s military, party and government.
Over the past year, North Korea has carried out personnel changes at the powerful National Defence Commission chaired by Kim Jong-Il and has had a cabinet reshuffle.
“The September meeting, which is aimed at reorganising the party leadership, will wrap up the reshuffle,” Yang said. “We cannot rule out the possibility that the party may anoint Jong-Un as successor behind close doors.”
But the North is likely to wait until 2012 before it makes public the son’s status as his father’s successor, Yang said.
North Korea has vowed to build a prosperous socialist state by 2012, when it celebrates Kim Il-Sung’s 100th birthday.
South Korea’s spy chief said this week that Kim Jong-Il’s poor health was driving him to speed up preparations for transferring power to Kim Jong-Un.
Won Sei-Hoon, director of the National Intelligence Service, told parliament that Jong-Un, 27, was taking a greater role in policy-making and frequently accompanied his father on inspection tours.
Saturday’s announcement comes with tensions high over the sinking in March of the South Korean warship, which left 46 dead. A multinational investigation concluded it was hit by a North Korean torpedo.
A US State Department spokesman said Friday Washington was aware of a North Korean declaration of a nine-day “no sail” zone off its western coast, which in the past has signalled the onset of missile tests, and urged Pyongyang to exercise restraint.
At the G8 meeting that Canada is hosting, government spokesman Dimitri Soudas said: “Canada’s view is that there has to be a strong condemnation of these attacks and that… we must state strongly that they must not carry on such attacks in the future.
The final communique of the meeting will be closely examined as it can set the stage for any UN action over the incident.