Friday, July 9, 2010

Is a Dusty Old Ruleboook Still a Rulebook?

With September edging closer and the Chosun Workers' Party Delegates' Conference therein concealed, it is fast approaching time for Pyongyang watchers to take the stage. And Kumsusanology is certainly full of ideas on what the event might mean.

For that matter, let it not be said that the Chosun Workers' Party itself is underplaying the conference, either. It's august organ, mouthpiece of choice and a newpsaper which can be relied on never to hold back on the hyperbole and propaganda, Rodong Shinmun asserted this week that the event “will shine as a notable event in the history of the sacred Workers’ Party.”

Obviously, something is afoot then, and many people, not least among them Hwang Jang Yop, see it as an attempt to reboot the Workers' Party and reinstall it as the leading power in the state, a position it nominally lost because Kim Jong Il felt he had the best chance of surviving if he hollowed it out and placed most of its power in the hands of the National Defense Commission during the decade(s) horribilis otherwise known as the 1990s and early 2000s.

Meanwhile, others simply think that Kim Jong Il may feel the need to place a wafer-thin veneer of legitimacy on installing his son into the top position. In the words of Daily NK man Park In Ho,

The Politburo statement limits the reasons for the holding of the delegates’ meeting to “electing the Party’s highest organs”, suggesting instead that it is by no means a sign of reorganization in advance of a Party Congress, for example, but simply a move to prepare the minimum decision making structure for the succession of Kim Jong Eun.

And this is partly the key question, and partly irrelevant. I mean, can we say that it is even possible to try and restore the function of a system of governance by holding for just the third time a meeting which Party statutes decree should have been held every five years, thus requiring there to have been twelve such meetings, give or take, since the founding of the country?

Kim seems to have decided that his son doesn't have the chops to keep the military in line over the long term within the system he leads through, and has decided to hollow out the NDC a little. So a rebalancing of the military-Party balance it may well be, but it is overreaching a fair bit to call it a return to communist or any other kind of orthodoxy.

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