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What to Expect: North Korea's 7th Workers' Party Congress

  • VOA News

People walk near the venue of a ruling party congress in Pyongyang, North Korea, May 6, 2016.

People walk near the venue of a ruling party congress in Pyongyang, North Korea, May 6, 2016.

North Korea's 7th Workers' Party Congress

What it is: Meeting of the party's highest-level decision-making body. Leaders will determine key state policies, review past projects, reshuffle top officials and revise party regulations. Thousands of delegates from across the country are attending.

When did it start: Friday morning local time; it is expected to last several days.

Where is it being held: The April 25 House of Culture in Pyongyang, North Korea. The last congress in 1980 was held in the ornate February 8 House of Culture, which is now called the April 25 House of Culture. Both dates refer to North Korean military anniversaries.

Last congress: The sixth congress was held for five days in 1980; delegations from 118 countries, including China, the Soviet Union, Zimbabwe, Guinea and Romania, attended. The fifth congress, in 1970, lasted for 12 days.

First congress: The first meeting was held in August 1946, and was notable because the Communist Party of North Korea merged with the New People’s Party to form the Workers’ Party of North Korea, The Guardian reported.

A TV screen shows pictures of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's late father Kim Jong Il, right, and late grandfather Kim Il Sung, left, at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, May 6, 2016.

A TV screen shows pictures of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's late father Kim Jong Il, right, and late grandfather Kim Il Sung, left, at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, May 6, 2016.

Why a 36-year gap? The Workers' Party is supposed to hold a congress every five years.

However, after the last party congress in 1980, the country has been dealing with a series of crises -- the breakup of the former Soviet Union, natural disasters such as a series of droughts and floods, as well as a devastating famine in the 1990s in which more than 2 million people were estimated to have died. Since then, Pyongyang has struggled with widespread poverty, malnutrition and a mismanaged economy.

Some analysts also blame Kim Jong Il, the late father of the current leader, whose "military-first"' policy diminished the party's authority. He never convened a party congress during his 17-year rule.

Why a party congress now? Kim Jong Un has a more party-oriented style of governing, similar to that of his grandfather.

Also, North Korea has seemed to dodge massive natural disasters and widespread starvation seen in previous years, while the country's economic situation has slightly improved.

Taken together, experts said Kim Jong Un is restarting the party congresses as a way to show the world that he rules a more stable country.

What to expect: Kim Jong Un, 33, is expected to deliver a keynote address.

Experts said he is also likely to use the meeting to push his simultaneous pursuit of nuclear weapons and economic growth, referred to his byungjin policy. The country's economy has been weakened by several rounds of U.N. sanctions over its nuclear program.

He is expected to replace some of the party's old guard with younger elites, who are loyal to him yet little known to outsiders.

Foreign journalists are seen filming and reporting from across the April 25 House of Culture, the venue for the 7th Congress of the Workers' Party of Korea, in Pyongyang, North Korea, May 6, 2016.

Foreign journalists are seen filming and reporting from across the April 25 House of Culture, the venue for the 7th Congress of the Workers' Party of Korea, in Pyongyang, North Korea, May 6, 2016.

And the event will also be used to praise Kim Jong Un and his leadership.

North Korea leaders:

• Kim Il Sung, considered the eternal leader of North Korea, is treated like a deity in the isolated country, which he ruled for 46 years, from its establishment in 1948 until his death in 1994.

• Kim Jong Il, son of Kim Il Sung and father of Kim Jong Un, ruled for 17 years, from 1994 to 2011.

• Kim Jong Un has been supreme leader since 2011.

Population: About 25 million

Foreign media: North Korea has invited foreign journalists to cover the event, but their movements, and whom they can speak with, are severely restricted.

Recent nuclear activity: The congress comes after months of animosity and threats following Pyongyang's fourth nuclear test explosion, in January, and a long-range rocket launch in February.

Some material for this report came from AP and Reuters.

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