Kim, who is believed to have suffered a stroke in 2008, has reportedly accelerated succession plans, and analysts say his youngest son, Kim Jong-un, is likely to be given an official title at the Workers’ Party conference.
The North’s KCNA news agency said the conference would be held in Pyongyang “for electing its supreme leadership body,” but provided no further details of the agenda.
The meeting had been slated to start in early September. The report made no mention of the delay.
South Korea said it appeared the meeting was held up by “internal problems,” probably related to flooding. Media reports have also speculated Kim’s health or disagreements over a reshuffle of the power structure could be responsible for the delay.
Party meetings have been held around the country to elect delegates to the conference, KCNA reported.
“The meetings elected working people and officials who have displayed patriotic devotion at the work sites for effecting a fresh revolutionary surge, remaining intensely loyal to the party and revolution as delegates to the conference,” it said.
Next week’s gathering of political elite will be the biggest party meeting in North Korea since 1980, when Kim himself began his official role to succeed his father and state founder by taking on a Workers’ Party title at the age of 38.
The 68-year-old leader, however, is not expected to go into retirement just yet despite his declining health, experts say, as his 20-something son is considered too young and inexperienced.
But by signalling Kim Jong-un’s rise, experts say North Korea is readying for a collective father-and-son leadership in years to come, which will cement the family’s grip on power.
In the event Kim Jong-il dies suddenly, his son by then identified as figurehead leader, would be surrounded by close family confidantes who have been appointed to senior positions in the Workers’ Party and military in recent months.
Regional powers will all be watching for clues as to how the transfer of power proceeds in the country with a military-first policy and enough fissile material for at least six to eight nuclear weapons.
Victor Cha of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington said American policy towards North Korea would remain steadfast, barring any “catastrophic events or miracles.”
“The party conference’s results may indicate a power transition, but there is little information as to what stage of the transition the conference represents,” he wrote on the centre’s website.
“In short, we may see smoke, but we do not know whether this is the beginning of the fire or the end of it. U.S. sanctions on North Korea will not be eased until the regime takes significant steps towards denuclearisation.”
Washington toughened sanctions against Pyongyang last month after an international team of investigators found the North was responsible for the sinking of a South Korean warship in March, killing 46 sailors. The North denies responsibility for the attack.
With North and South still technically at war, having only signed an armistice in 1953, regional powers are anxious to know what changes are afoot and who will command the country’s nearly 1.2 million troops and another 7.7 million in the reserves.
Experts say the best case and most market-friendly outcome is an approximate continuation of the current system. Reuters