UPDATE : 2018.4.23 MON 16:57
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Parliament approves Moon's pick for Supreme Court chief

South Korea's parliament approved President Moon Jae-in's pick for Supreme Court chief justice on Thursday, ending a month of partisan bickering over his ideological orientation and avoiding the risk of another judicial leadership void.

Of the 298 lawmakers present for the vote on Kim Meong-su, 160 approved him and 134 voted against, while one abstained. Three votes were counted as invalid.

Kim, 57, will replace Yang Sung-tae, whose six-year term ends Sunday.

Since the liberal president named Kim on Aug. 21 to lead the top court, controversy has persisted over his alleged ideological tilt to the left.

Conservative parties have taken issue with Kim's previous role in leading a group of liberal judges, his 2015 ruling in favor of a progressive teachers union and his perceived advocacy for homosexual rights.

They claimed his appointment could fuel the judiciary's swing to the left, noting the chief justice wields enormous power in appointing some 3,000 judges across the country and in recommending all of the Supreme Court justices.

The National Assembly holds a plenary session to vote on whether to approve or reject Supreme Court Chief Justice nominee Kim Meong-su at the parliament's main chamber in Seoul on Sept. 21, 2017.

The presidential office Cheong Wa Dae welcomed the endorsement.

"It is a relief that we are able to avoid a leadership vacuum at the top court," Yoon Young-chan, the chief presidential press secretary, told reporters.

"We express our gratitude to the legislature for approving the confirmation motion, and we will strive harder to better communicate (with the parliament)," he added.

The ruling Democratic Party reiterated that Kim will play a pivotal role for judicial reform.

"Kim is a man of high morality and integrity, and well-suited for judicial reform in line with public sentiment," Kim Hyun, the party spokeswoman, said.

The main opposition Liberty Korea Party, meanwhile, expressed displeasure, saying it failed to "block the judiciary's leftward tilt."

"We apologize to citizens for failing to prevent the judiciary from being aligned (with the government) and block its leftward tilt," Khang Hyo-shang, the party's spokesman, told reporters.

The conservative Bareun Party voiced "regrets," saying the parliamentary endorsement will be recorded as a case of the legislature "abetting" the judiciary's political swing to the left.

Against the backdrop of unceasing criticism, the chief justice designate stressed his resolve for judicial reform.

"I will try to wisely overcome various challenges and difficulties facing the judiciary," Kim said in a statement. "I feel a heavy burden in these crucial responsibilities I have undertaken."

Over the last few days, the leaders of the Democratic Party had made frantic last-ditch efforts to drum up opposition support, amid fears that another parliamentary rejection of Moon's personnel choice would pose a major setback to the ruling bloc.

On Sept. 11, the legislature voted down Constitutional Court chief nominee Kim Yi-su in an unprecedented move that dealt a dispiriting blow to Moon and his party and escalated calls for the presidential office to overhaul its personnel vetting system.

Before departing for New York to attend the U.N. General Assembly, Moon made an emphatic plea for the opposition-led legislature to approve Kim, voicing concerns over a possible leadership vacuum at the top court.

This photo, taken Sept. 12, 2017, shows Supreme Court Chief Justice nominee Kim Meong-su speaking during a parliamentary confirmation hearing at the National Assembly in Seoul.

Max Kang  edt@koeapost.com

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