The 8th Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was held in Pyongyang from 5 to 12 January 2021. This paper provides an overview of the structural and personnel changes that resulted from the 8th Congress and analyses their implications for the leadership’s governance style in the coming years.
Structural and personnel changes further solidified Kim Jong Un’s sole governing authority and arguably completed the transition period following his ascent to leadership in 2011.
Revisions to the rules of the Workers’ Party of Korea (hereafter “WPK” or “the Party”) amended both ideological and organizational aspects of the party’s governance.
The “people-first” principle was formalized as the basic political mode under socialism, presumably replacing the Kim Jong Il era’s Songun politics.
The re-establishment of the Secretariat of the WPK Central Committee, replacing the Executive Policy Bureau, allowed for the elevated titular designation of Kim Jong Un as General Secretary, akin to Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung.
Officials who are considered closest to and most trusted by Kim Jong Un were promoted in the Central Committee, particularly Jo Yong Won, Ri Pyong Chol, Kim Tok Hun and Pak Jong Chon.
The new Political Bureau and Secretariat composition suggests that the DPRK’s leadership and the WPK will primarily focus on issues related to domestic governance in the near future. This is in line with the dominant focus on the economy and military development goals in Kim Jong Un’s report to the 8th WPK Congress.
Addendum: Please note that additional WPK Central Committee personnel announcements were made during the 2nd Plenary Meeting of the 8th WPK Central Committee (8-11/02/2021): O Su Yong was promoted to Secretary and Director of the Economic Department (suggesting that he has taken over Kim Tu Il's position). Additionally, Foreign Minister Ri Son Kwon was promoted to Member of the Political Bureau and Kim Song Nam was appointed as Alternate Member of the Political Bureau and Director of the International Department.