North Korea Cuts Number of Ruling Party Members Through Forced Retirement

nk-elderly-woman-july-2013.jpg An elderly North Korean woman is escorted after the inauguration of a Korean war military cemetery in Pyongyang, July 25, 2013.

North Korea’s ruling Korean Workers’ Party has established new age limits for party membership, forcing the retirement of older members in a bid to bring new youth and energy to party activities, according to North Korean sources.

Detailed information regarding the age at which rank-and-file party members are now obliged to resign was not immediately available, but is said to be fixed and “similar” to the age—60 for men and 55 for women—at which ordinary North Korean citizens retire from their jobs.

Sources say the scheme appears aimed mainly at limiting the numbers of older members of North Korea’s ruling party.

The age-limit ruling has been vigorously implemented since Kim Jong Un took over as the country’s leader in 2011, when his father Kim Jong Il died, one source said.

“There are as many members of the Korean Workers’ Party now as there are stones in the street,” a source in China told RFA’s Korean Service.

“By reducing the number of party members, they are hoping to revitalize the party and increase the value of party membership,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

After retiring from party membership, ordinary party members are classified as “honorary” members, other sources said.

High-ranking government officials, on the other hand, retain their full party membership until they retire from their posts, and are classified as “honorary” members after that. There is no fixed retirement age for them.

Policy 'gradually implemented'

A resident of the capital Pyongyang, contacted while visiting relatives in China, told RFA that the new age-limit system has “been gradually implemented within the party for a while now.”

A North Korean trader, also visiting China, said that though the system had previously been under internal review, “it was implemented with full force once Kim Jong Un took power.”

Grass-roots party members who have not held public office are welcoming the requirement to resign party membership when they grow old, one source said.

“They like it because they won’t have to pay a party membership fee or take part in work as a group anymore.”

“Also, they are too old to be considered for selection to government posts,” he said.

Many younger North Koreans still hope to join the Korean Workers’ Party though, sources said, as party membership provides opportunities for employment in public office and to rise in social rank.

Reported by Joon Ho Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Hanna Lee. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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