North Korean parliament holds second session this year

PYONGYANG, North Korea — North Korea’s parliament convened Tuesday for the second time in six months, passing a law that adds one year of compulsory education for children in the socialist nation, the first publicly announced policy change under leader Kim Jong Un.

The Supreme People’s Assembly’s second meeting of the year was notable mainly as a departure from how Kim’s father did business. Before he died in December, Kim Jong Il convened his legislature just once in most years, and during one three-year period after his own father’s death it didn’t meet at all.

By adding a year to North Korea’s state-funded educational system, from 11 to 12 years, Kim may be trying to cultivate loyalty among younger generations as he consolidates his power base.

Kim Jong Un himself attended Tuesday’s session, which was adjourned after a single day, according to the official Korean Central News Agency. Foreign reporters were denied access. Video on state TV showed legislators, many of the women in traditional Korean dresses, holding up deputy badges in the vast Mansudae Assembly Hall.

North Korea’s Constitution allows political parties, but politics is overwhelmingly dominated by the Workers’ Party, founded by Kim Il Sung, grandfather of the current ruler. Virtually all legislators are members of the Kims’ party who ran unopposed in the last nationwide election, leading many outside observers to consider the body a rubber stamp for the regime’s policies. A few legislators are from the Chondoist Chongu Party and the Social Democratic Party, both believed to government aligned.

Here’s a look at the Supreme People’s Assembly and how it works:

— The current 12th parliament formed in 2009 has 687 legislators, or deputies, of which 107 are women. The number of deputies is determined by the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly in proportion to the country’s population.

— The assembly meets at the austere Mansudae Assembly Hall in the capital, Pyongyang.

— Deputies are elected after a committee of more than 100 people from each district recommends candidates to represent the constituency in the parliament. Even though the law provides no limits on the number of candidates who can run from each district, almost all candidates ran unopposed in the last election in March 2009.

— According to Kim Song Chun, a parliamentary official, deputies meet to discuss and pass laws and establish the country’s domestic and foreign policies. They also can appoint or dismiss officials at top state organizations and confer titles. For example, at the last session in April, Kim Jong Un was made first chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission.

Holding a second parliamentary session could mark a return to the more active role that parliament played under Kim Il Sung, who often held two sessions a year, said John Delury of Yonsei University in South Korea. Parliament typically met only once a year under Kim Jong Il.

“This was part of a general trend under Kim Jong Il of holding less frequent and less regular meetings of key party and government organs,” Delury said. “The striking thing is that Kim Jong Un seems to be reversing that trend by regularizing and re-institutionalizing governance.”

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