News / Asia

North Korea's Parliamentary Move Fuels Speculation

In this Oct. 10, 2010 file photo, Kim Jong Un attends a massive military parade marking the 65th anniversary of the ruling Workers' Party in Pyongyang.In this Oct. 10, 2010 file photo, Kim Jong Un attends a massive military parade marking the 65th anniversary of the ruling Workers' Party in Pyongyang.
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In this Oct. 10, 2010 file photo, Kim Jong Un attends a massive military parade marking the 65th anniversary of the ruling Workers' Party in Pyongyang.
In this Oct. 10, 2010 file photo, Kim Jong Un attends a massive military parade marking the 65th anniversary of the ruling Workers' Party in Pyongyang.
North Korea has announced that its legislature is to meet again this month. There is considerable speculation in South Korea about the unusual reconvening of what is seen as the rubber-stamp parliament in Pyongyang.

The announcement from North Korea's legislative authority came early Wednesday. A DPRK radio announcer said deputies of the Supreme People's Assembly are on notice to convene in Pyongyang on September 25 and to register there one or two days beforehand.

In Seoul, Unification Ministry spokeswoman Park Soo-jin says while the re-convening of North Korea's rubber-stamp parliament twice in one year is unusual, it is not unprecedented.

Park says there are two previous cases of the deputies meeting twice in the same year, most recently in 2010.

The assembly also met twice in 2003. In some years under the previous leader, Kim Jong Il, it did not meet at all.

In parliament's April session this year, Kim Jong Un was formally elected “first chairman” of the national defense commission, effectively securing his stature as the country's top leader.

The assembly also named the late Kim Jong Il, the father of the current leader, as the defense commission's “eternal chairman.”

South Korea's publicly-funded Yonhap news agency says it is highly likely this month's session of the North Korean legislature will announce new policies or unveil a shuffling of  the Cabinet or other organs of state.

There is also speculation the legislators will sign into law a modified economic management policy which emerged in late June and is due to be implemented from next month. The new policy, most significantly, is designed to partly end rationing.

South Korean professor Yang Moo-jin at the University of North Korean Studies says he expects the September 25 session in Pyongyang will focus on economic policy changes.

Yang says the session is designed to demonstrate the stabilization of the Kim Jong Un regime and show determination to legally implement his plan for economic development as the new leader is emphasizing improving the lives of North Korean citizens.

Intelligence analysts say a process is underway to strip North Korea's military of its control over major economic policies and place them under the Cabinet.

A currency reform attempt amid rampant inflation three years ago failed.

The impoverished state with few significant friends abroad, aside from China, continues to face dire challenges as one of the world's most centrally planned and closed economies. North Korea's gross domestic product is only three percent of South Korea's GDP.

And now there is renewed concern among some international aid agencies about a worsening food situation in the North after a long dry spell which was followed by recent damaging floods.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.

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