What is the North Korea Workers’ Party congress, and why does it matter?

Published 3:44 PM EDT, Thu April 28, 2016
exp TSR.Todd.North.Korea.builds.mockup.of.Blue.House.for.staging.attack_00000229.jpg
CNN
exp TSR.Todd.North.Korea.builds.mockup.of.Blue.House.for.staging.attack_00000229.jpg
Now playing
02:40
North Korea builds Seoul palace replica for mock attack
Nicolas Asfouri/Pool/Getty Images/AFP PHOTO/KCNA VIA KNS
Now playing
01:27
North, South Korean leaders to meet again
Airbus Defense and Space
Now playing
01:44
New images show N. Korea dismantling test site
CNNI
Now playing
00:40
Pompeo dismisses N. Korea's 'gangster' comments
SINGAPORE - JUNE 12: In this handout photo, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un shakes hands with U.S. President Donald Trump during their historic U.S.-DPRK summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island on June 12, 2018 in Singapore. U.S. President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un held the historic meeting between leaders of both countries on Tuesday morning in Singapore, carrying hopes to end decades of hostility and the threat of North Korea's nuclear program. (Photo by Kevin Lim/THE STRAITS TIMES/Handout/Getty Images)
Handout/Getty Images AsiaPac/Getty Images
SINGAPORE - JUNE 12: In this handout photo, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un shakes hands with U.S. President Donald Trump during their historic U.S.-DPRK summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island on June 12, 2018 in Singapore. U.S. President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un held the historic meeting between leaders of both countries on Tuesday morning in Singapore, carrying hopes to end decades of hostility and the threat of North Korea's nuclear program. (Photo by Kevin Lim/THE STRAITS TIMES/Handout/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:56
Kim Jong Un snubbed Mike Pompeo, source says
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 09:  National Security Adviser John Bolton speaks on a morning television show from the grounds of the White House, on May 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. Yesterday President Donald Trump announced that America was withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 09: National Security Adviser John Bolton speaks on a morning television show from the grounds of the White House, on May 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. Yesterday President Donald Trump announced that America was withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:34
Bolton: US has plan for denuclearizing N. Korea
Planet Labs Inc.
Now playing
01:25
Satellite images show missile plant construction
CNN
Now playing
01:14
Susan Rice: Kim Jong Un beat Trump at summit
Images of the Norrth Korea missile launch on November 28 taken from Rodong Sinmun, North Korea's official newspaper.
From Rodong Sinmun
Images of the Norrth Korea missile launch on November 28 taken from Rodong Sinmun, North Korea's official newspaper.
Now playing
02:14
Will North Korea restart nuclear tests?
Photo Illustration/Getty Images
Now playing
03:00
Will Kim Jong Un ever give up his nukes?
Photo Illustration/Getty Images
Now playing
02:27
What's bringing Kim Jong Un to the table
Now playing
01:51
Who is Kim Jong Un?
CNN
Now playing
01:43
Connolly: Trump comment on Kim 'jaw-dropping'
Now playing
02:31
Moon: The masterful dealmaker
Trump Kim Jong Un comment 04240218
CNN
Trump Kim Jong Un comment 04240218
Now playing
01:26
Trump: Kim Jong Un very open and honorable
Now playing
03:06
Finding art on the edge of the DMZ

Story highlights

The gathering is the highest authority of the most powerful institution in North Korea

The congress consolidates and institutionalizes Kim Jong Un's power in the regime

Editor’s Note: Michael Madden is a frequent contributor to 38 North, Visiting Scholar at the U.S. Korea Institute at the Paul H. Nitze School for Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University and editor of NK Leadership Watch.

(CNN) —  

North Korea has announced the opening date of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea’s Seventh Congress, a rare and potentially significant gathering.

The party hasn’t held one since 1980, and that one peaked with the announcement that Kim Jong Il, the father of the country’s current leader, would succeed Kim Il Sung, the regime’s founder, as leader. He eventually took power in 1994, when the elder Kim passed away.

What’s behind the announcement, and why does this event matter?

What is the party congress?

According to the party’s own bylaws, the party congress is “the party’s supreme organ” which means this political gathering is the highest authority of the most powerful institution in North Korea.

The ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, or WPK, dominates everything in North Korea. It controls the government and military, along with much of North Korean society.

Party officials decide where you go to school, what job you have or whether you can trade in the growing private sector.

The congress opens May 6.

Opinion: Why North Korean threat is a more urgent issue for next U.S. President

Why now?

The primary reason for the party congress is to consolidate and institutionalize Kim Jong Un’s power in the regime.

Since he took power over four years ago there have been many officials removed from office or rumored to have been executed, most recently Ri Yong Gil, chief of the North Korean Army’s general staff.

So, the congress is an opportunity for Kim to press a reset button on North Korean political culture.

Party leaders made the decision to hold the congress last fall, well aware that they would conduct a fourth nuclear test and another rocket launch – also aware of the international condemnation these actions would draw.

These proclaimed accomplishments have rallied support for the regime and create the ideal conditions for the party congress.

It is also no accident that they’re having this major political meeting before U.S. presidential elections in November and the South Korean presidential elections in 2017.