Korea's national assembly approves Justice nominee

Saenuri Party lawmakers unilaterally approve the nomination of Park Sang-ok to the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

The governing party unilaterally approved the appointment of a controversial Supreme Court Justice nominee on Wednesday using its majority, ending a weekslong partisan fight over the nomination.

The National Assembly voted 151 to 6 in favour of the appointment of Park Sang-ok to the Supreme Court. One vote was counted as invalid. The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, numbering 130, boycotted the vote in protest.

Persisting disagreements on public service pension reforms between the main parties held off a plenary voting on related amendments and scores of other economy-related bills.

The nomination of Park has been pending in the Assembly since January due to the opposition's objection. The NPAD says the ex-prosecutor actively participated in the alleged cover-up of the torture death of Park Jong-chul, a student protester under police custody, in January 1987.

Park denied the accusations, saying he had been a junior prosecutor following orders from higher-ups.

Many of the NPAD's lawmakers have ties to the deceased Park, as they were also student protesters during the 1980s.

"In the cold winter of 1987, a college student was found dead, naked, tortured," NPAD Rep. Park Wan-ju," said. "Official investigations later found that he had been killed by five police officers through torture," the former activist added, before walking out of the main parliamentary hall before voting.

Assembly Speaker Rep. Chung Ui-hwa put the nomination up to a vote urging the opposition to express its objection through the "legislative process."

"The opposition is free to vote against Park's nomination," Chung had said Monday. "If you are against his appointment, convince the (Saenuri Party) to vote against him," he added.

Last-minute disagreements on public service pension reforms between the rival parties also delayed Wednesday's plenary meeting, holding off voting on dozens of economy-related bills.

The impasse left dozens of bills awaiting plenary approval. They included a draft law aiming to legalize crowdfunding, another legalizing images of tobacco's side-effects on cigarette packs, and a bill allowing large corporations to engage in subcontracting, among others.

The NPAD demanded that the revised texts of the public service pension bill should specifically state that the income-replacement rate of the national pension would be raised to 50 per cent, from the current 40 per cent.

The income-replacement rate is the figure multiplied to a pensioner's average lifetime monthly income.

The governing Saenuri Party's Rep. Yoo Seong-min agreed to put the wording in the bill's addenda. Yoo's agreement came after initial refusals, stating any specific statistic should be finalized during later talks among lawmakers and pension experts.

Yoo's agreement though will depend on the Saenuri Party's Supreme Council's final approval. The Supreme Council consists of the party's most senior incumbent lawmakers.

Over the weekend, the rival parties agreed on a set of reform measures for the civil servants' pension to raise the contribution rate of public service pensions from 7 per cent to 9 per cent in the next five years, while reducing entitlements from 1.9 per cent to 1.7 per cent in stages over 20 years.

The two sides also agreed to raise the income-replacement rate of the national pension, but faced opposition from Cheong Wa Dae due to the fear of increased burden on taxpayers.

"I don't want to talk much right now," Saenuri Party Rep. Kim Moo-sung said as he came out from a closed-door meeting among Saenuri lawmakers earlier in the day.

"But it's been weeks and months since we started talks on the public service pension reforms," Kim added in apparent frustration. "And (party leaders) signed an agreement (last Saturday). Annulling this agreement is nonsense. I trust that we are politically mature enough to know this."