The presidential candidates have unveiled their security and economic pledges with tension on the Korean Peninsula and the sluggish economy expected to affect voter sentiment ahead of the May 9 election.
In particular, security issues are dominating the race to the presidency amid rising concerns over North Korea's possible nuclear provocations and Washington's confrontational stance toward the Kim Jong-un regime.
Leading contenders are poles apart over the issue of deploying a U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery here.
Ahn Cheol-soo of the People's Party recently backtracked on his longstanding opposition to the deployment, saying it would be "irresponsible" to disregard the promise between the U.S. and South Korean governments.
Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) is sticking to his original stance that the next government should deal with the issue. But he has conspicuously softened his stance, saying the deployment could be "inevitable if the North continues nuclear provocations and China fails to curb these."
Hong Joon-pyo of the former ruling Liberty Korea Party (LKP) is adamant in his support for the U.S anti-missile system, calling it "non-negotiable." He went so far as to say that Seoul should ask Washington to re-deploy strategic nuclear weapons in South Korea.
Yoo Seong-min of the conservative Bareun Party, the LKP's splinter group, is also a vocal supporter. He argues for one or two additional THAAD batteries to be deployed to better protect the entire country.
Sim Sang-jung of the progressive Justice Party remains as the only clear opponent. She said, not to mention its incapability of fending off nuclear weapons, the installation itself is too costly as it is turning the Korean peninsula into a stage for heated rivalry between the superpowers.
Sim, along with Moon and Ahn, though, are opposed to the re-deployment of U.S. strategic nuclear weapons in South Korea.
Regarding the North, both Moon and Ahn vowed to seek dialogue with the Kim regime while maintaining economic sanctions, which could be a possible source of contention with the hard-line Trump administration.
"If the North continues nuclear and missile provocations, sanctions are inevitable. But keeping in mind reunification in the future, we should improve relations between the two Koreas at the same time," Moon said.
Ahn also believes Seoul should make efforts to thaw strained bilateral relations through cultural and humanitarian exchanges while supporting international sanctions against the regime.
He pledged to step up resuming the six-party talks, or pushing for four-party talks between the U.S., China and North and South Korea while seeking dialogue between Seoul and Pyongyang.
Moon said he is willing to meet Kim Jong-un to address the nuclear issue. But Ahn has a more prudent idea. "A summit should not be the aim. I believe it can be held only when it is viewed as an efficient measure to deal with the issue with the North," he said during a recent interview.
The stances of Moon and Ahn differ over whether to resume the Gaeseong Industrial Complex that was jointly run with North Korea.
Moon said it should reopen as soon as possible and vowed to expand inter-Korean economic cooperation. Sim echoed the same view as Moon.
Ahn, however, disagree with an immediate resumption of the industrial park, saying the issue should be negotiated first. Conservative contenders, Yoo and Hong, are clear opponents. They said it should not be considered until the North provides an assurance of no military provocations, or shuts down its nuclear program.
All candidates are negative about upholding the "comfort women" deal reached between Seoul and Tokyo in December 2015.
Moon proposed the deal should be nullified for omitting an official apology from Japan. Seoul agreed to end the dispute once and for all with Tokyo paying 1 billion yen for a foundation to be established by the Korean government to support Korean victims of sex slavery.
Ahn argued it should be readjusted based on the opinions of the surviving victims. Yoo would push for a hard renegotiation, saying, "If Tokyo does not agree to renegotiate, I will unilaterally abrogate the deal."
Hong called the accord an outcome of a shady deal, not an act of diplomacy. He said he would declare it null and void.
Sim is also seeking to renegotiate with Tokyo. Her party is pushing for the installation of a statue of a girl, symbolizing Korean wartime sex slaves, in the National Assembly building.
All candidates have promised to put Koreans back to work, mindful of the worsening unemployment rate hovering around 4 percent with the figure for youth joblessness particularly worse at over 11 percent.
Moon's employment plan focuses on job creation in the public sector. He has pledged to create 810,000 jobs including 174,000 for civil servants. Moon is also determined to encourage more businesses to hire employees. The goal is the creation of 500,000 jobs by reducing working hours to 52 hours a week.
He wants to set up a job committee under the presidential office and establish committees for the Fourth Industrial Revolution and start-up businesses as governmental branches, showing his intention to push for an administration-led move.
Ahn is focused more on spurring employment for young adults. He promised to guarantee 80 percent of the salary for workers at big businesses for young people hired by small- and mid-sized companies by providing 6 million won a year per person.
He proposed giving 300,000 won in a monthly subsidy during the first six months of a youngster on job training.
Sim wants to curb the expansion of the non-regular workforce and support those workers existing under the system. She said she would help workers at subcontractors get paid 80 percent of what workers at contractor companies receive.
Yoo, though from a conservative party, is in tune with liberal contenders. He pledged to limit the number of non-regular workers at big companies and provide financial and policy support for start-up businesses. He plans to raise the minimum wage to 10,000 won per hour by 2020.
Hong disagrees with the government-led move and argues its role should be limited to creating a business environment for job creation.
He is skeptical of reform plans for conglomerates while all his competitors express strong support, acknowledging public sentiment in the aftermath of a presidential corruption scandal involving big business.
Moon promised to make the management process more transparent by introducing an electronic voting system and appointing boards of directors based on the recommendation of workers. He would raise the current 30 percent of the shares that a holding company has to acquire, to run its subsidiaries.
Ahn also heralded a tough stance against Chaebol with the expansion of a punitive damages system for their illegal acts. He has put stress on reforming the corporate governance structure.
Yoo and Sim are seeking to abolish the exclusive right to file a complaint by the Fair Trade Commission, the government's corporate watchdog to better regulate family-controlled conglomerates.
All but Hong pledged to abstain from granting pardons to leaders of big companies.
Their stances on tax rises are not much different. Four contenders have suggested a corporate tax hike back to 25 percent, previously cut from this to 22 percent under the Lee Myung-bak administration, along with higher taxation of high-income earners.
Yoo has actively voiced the need to raise taxes to support expanded welfare, supporting an increase of the tax burden from the current 18.5 percent to 22 percent. Progressive taxation would better assist this goal, he believes. Meanwhile, Hong said he would rather cut corporate taxes for businesses if they increase employment and invest more in R&D.