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N. Korea’s rubber-stamp parliament to convene rare session Sept 25

Publication Date : 06-09-2012

 

North Korea will convene this year’s second parliamentary session on September 25, its state media said Wednesday, triggering speculation that Pyongyang could announce new laws for economic reform and a personnel reshuffle of its state organs.

The Korean Central News Agency reported that the Supreme People’s Assembly will convene the session in Pyongyang with delegates’ registration to take place from September 23-24. It did not specify the agenda for the gathering.

It is rare for the North’s rubber-stamp legislature to convene more than once a year. It usually only convenes in April each year. While late strongman Kim Jong-il, who officially took power in 1998, was in office, the Assembly convened biannually only in 2003 and 2010.

During this year’s April session, the Assembly appointed Kim Jong-un first chairman of the powerful National Defence Commission while designating his father as the eternal NDC chairman. It also conducted some constitutional revisions to strengthen the legitimacy of the fledgling leadership.

The abrupt announcement of another legislative session came as Pyongyang is seen making a flurry of reform moves to shore up its moribund economy and pluck its people out of poverty.

Some experts predict that the North may utilise the session to announce or promote its new economic policy, possibly in connection with the so-called “June 28 economic management measures” seen as noticeable steps toward reform and openness.

The measures reportedly give more autonomy to state corporations and collective farms and partially abandon the food rationing programme among other details. Some analysts said the North appears to grudgingly recognise the market elements, which have been entrenched since the severe food crisis in the mid-1990s.

“There may be several reasons for the convening of the rare session. It is likely to adopt a new economic management policy,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. “Another is to improve legal measures to spur the lackluster development of special economic zones.”

Yang was referring to the two economic zones in Raseon City on the North’s northeastern tip, and Hwanggeumpyeong and Wihwa islands on the western border with China.

During Kim’s powerful uncle and guardian Jang Song-thaek’s visit to Beijing last month, Pyongyang and China signed a deal to establish a joint management committee for the zones.

Since July, there has been much talk of North Korea’s economic reform in the media with some predicting that the reclusive state may begin fully implementing the June 28 measures from October.

The level of the North’s possible reform is hard to predict, experts say, stressing that Pyongyang has repeated a pattern of employing what appear to be reform measures and retract them when they were deemed to pose a threat to the dynastic regime.

Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun reported on Tuesday that Pyongyang will take away only 30 per cent of the earnings of state-run corporations and stores with the rest left at their disposal.

It said that the North has so far taken away all of the earnings while offering the basic wherewithal to run the state organisations, adding that the measure could boost workers’ morale.

In the forthcoming parliamentary session, the North could also conduct a partial reshuffle of the state organisations such as the Cabinet and the National Defence Commission, experts said.

The North has recently moved to bolster the role of the Cabinet in its economic policy while trying to attenuate the influence of the conservative military as witnessed in the July dismissal of its top military commander Ri Yong-ho.

In line with this development, experts said that there may be some need for the personnel reorganisation in some state organs.

Observers also raise the possibility of the North presenting its foreign policy stance, in particular on the relations with the US. As there have been no signs of a thaw between them, Pyongyang could express some displeasure over the bilateral ties.

In July, the North’s foreign ministry spokesperson said in a commentary, “It is our unwavering choice to deal with Washington’s hostile policy toward the North by strengthening [our] nuclear deterrence capabilities.”

After all, high-profile moves by the North will focus on consolidating the legitimacy of the young leader.

“The biggest task Kim faces is to establish his legitimacy as a leader and show to the people that the young leader is different from his father and grandfather,” said Lee Cho-won, political science professor at Chung-Ang University.

“By using this official session, he may seek to promote his policy and further strengthen the legitimacy of his state management.”

 

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