North Korea’s ruling party increases wait time, ‘loyalty fees’ for aspiring members

Kim Jong Un. (KCNA/Xinhua via Zuma Press/TNS)
January 17, 2021

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Revised regulations on joining North Korea’s ruling party extend the candidacy period for prospective members from one to two years, effectively doubling the “loyalty fees” and other bribes required to join the elite, sources in the country told RFA.

The regulations were approved during the Eighth Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea last week. The rare meeting of the entire party’s leadership was last held in 2016, and that congress was the first since 1980.

Membership in the party is seen as a status symbol that can also be a gateway to better housing, education and food in the impoverished country. Those who desire membership must be endorsed by two party members and demonstrate qualifications for the candidacy period, which has now twice as long and expensive, the sources said.

“Some provisions of the revised party rules from the eighth party congress were reported in the Rodong Sinmun newspaper. I read about it and only a bitter smile came to me,” a food factory worker in Ryanggang province, in the country’s northern region, told RFA’s Korean Service Sunday.

“Article 3 of the party regulations were revised to shore up the admission procedure, and now party members and candidates should dedicate to the party a higher amount of loyalty funds and bribes,” said the source, who requested anonymity for security reasons.

The source said that Article 3 also stipulates that only those ‘fully qualified’ would be accepted as candidates, and the period of candidate membership has been extended from one year to two years.

“It means that if a candidate fails to properly dedicate the loyalty funds to the party during the two years… he or she will be disqualified from being a candidate,” the source said.

“It was previously mandatory for the candidates to bribe party officials in charge of the screening process even before screening began. During the previous one-year candidacy period, they offered up loyalty funds from their foreign-currency-earning side projects,” said the source.

In the North Korean economy, nearly everyone needs a secondary job to make a living, because the government salary they earn from their assigned careers is nowhere near enough to support themselves.

Extension of the party’s candidacy period to two years essentially means the cost of joining has doubled, according to the source.

“Those who became candidates last year, who should have become regular party members this year, are complaining.”

Another source, from North Pyongan province in the country’s northwest confirmed that change and other revisions to RFA Monday.

“A new provision has been added to the party regulations stating that if you do not faithfully fulfill your obligations as a party member for more than 3 years, you will be removed from the party,” said the second source, who requested anonymity to speak freely.

“Many of the party members had been neglecting party activities by bribing the party officially to be exempt from lecture sessions as well as weekly self-criticism sessions,” the source said.

The lectures and self-criticism sessions are the means by which the government tracks the loyalty of every citizen, but attending the weekly sessions takes away from the time the candidates would spend earning a living.

“Nobody would be so foolish as to stop making money to participate in party life out of any sense of loyalty, even with the threat of being ousted from the party,” the second source said.

“Instead, the party members will just have to dedicate more money in loyalty funds to the authorities, and many are not happy about it.”