Transfer in the Republic of Korea (ROK) of presidential power from the ruling bloc to the opposition is expected to cause a dramatic change in the country's diplomacy and policy toward the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), experts said.
"Depending on who is elected in (next) presidential election, (South) Korea's foreign policy will obviously get different (in consequence)," Go Myong-hyun, a research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul, said in an interview with Xinhua on Tuesday.
Moon Jae-in, former chairman of the biggest opposition Minjoo Party who is now the frontrunner in recent presidential polls, is forecast to consider the re-opening of the Kaesong Industrial Complex if he is elected, the expert on security and diplomacy said.
The inter-Korean factory park in the DPRK's border town of Kaesong was unilaterally shut down by South Korea in retaliation for Pyongyang's fourth nuclear test in January and the launch in February of a long-range rocket, which Seoul saw as a disguised test of a long-range missile.
Moon is former chief of staff to late President Roh Moo-hyun who had inherited a "sunshine policy," or rapprochement approach to its northern neighbor, from his predecessor late President Kim Dae-jung. Both Roh and Kim held summit talks with late DPRK leader Kim Jong Il.
ROK President Park Geun-hye and his predecessor President Lee Myung-bak adopted a so-called "strategic patience" on the DPRK's nuclear issue, which had done little to encourage Pyongyang to return to a dialogue table and had used pressures and sanctions alone.
Early presidential race is expected to come as President Park was impeached on Dec. 9 in the parliament with an overwhelming support. The constitutional court has up to 180 days to deliberate, and a presidential election must be held within 60 days if the impeachment is justified.
The transfer of power to the opposition bloc could bring about not a few alterations in the country's foreign and security policies as ruling and opposition parties approach those issues from different perspectives.
If the ruling bloc wins back the presidency, there would be no big transformation in South Korea's DPRK policy, said the research fellow who forecast the inter-Korean relations would be a big issue in the upcoming presidential race.
Conservative voters here traditionally favor a hard-line policy toward the DPRK, while liberal voters tend to support the sunshine policy to defuse tensions on the Korean Peninsula and increase exchanges and cooperation between the two Koreas.
The opposition bloc, the expert said, has made out its case for the re-examination or the stop of the deployment of a U.S. missile shield in South Korean soil, the signing of the military intelligence pact with Japan and the agreement with Japan on comfort women victims.
He advised the next ROK administration to consider both positions of China opposing to the THAAD deployment as well as of the United States and Japan which are concerned about the re-examination of their agreements with the ROK.
Under the Park Geun-hye administration, Seoul and Washington announced their plan in July to install one Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery in southeastern South Korea by the end of next year despite strong oppositions from China and Russia.
The ROK signed the accord with Japan on Nov. 23 to exchange military intelligence on the DPRK's nuclear and missile programs despite strong objections here to such deal with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe-led cabinet which has yet to apologize for past brutalities during its 1910-45 colonization of the Korean Peninsula.
Seoul also reached a "final and irreversible" agreement last December with Tokyo on the victims of comfort women, a euphemism for Korean women who were lured or forced into sexual slavery for the Imperial Japan's military brothels before and during the World War .
The frail comfort women victims and advocate groups have held a rally every Wednesday in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul to protest against the agreement and demand Japan's sincere apology and its acknowledgement of legal responsibility.
WHO IS LIEKLY TO BE ELECTED AS PRESIDENT
Given that the scandal involving President Park destroyed support for the conservative bloc, a candidate from opposition parties is highly likely to be elected as next South Korean president, said Jang Seok-joon, vice president of the minor opposition Justice Party's Future Politics Center.
Former Minjoo Party chief Moon Jae-in, a runner-up to Park in the 2012 presidential election, has ranked first in recent presidential surveys since the presidential scandal erupted in October.
Moon is a safe choice for voters, the political expert said, as he is now the frontrunner of the biggest opposition party amid higher possibility for presidential power to be transferred to the opposition bloc.
If Moon becomes a winner in the Minjoo Party's primary, he will garner more support from liberal voters in their protest vote against the ruling Saenuri Party, Jang predicted.
Jang, however, cast doubts on whether Moon can expand his support base further because of his longtime exposure to searing criticism from political enemies and conservative media outlets that resulted in widespread public opinion against him.
Moon was trailed by outgoing UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, whose two, five-year terms are set to end by the end of this year. The career diplomat has never officially declared his run for president, but he has been seen as hope for conservative voters in the absence of powerful presidential contenders in the ruling bloc.
The expert on politics said Ban emerged as the only remaining choice in the conservative bloc as there is no other notable alternative from the ruling Saenuri Party, of which popularity was almost ruined by the impeached president.
Ban would not become the Saenuri Party's candidate, the expert predicted. Instead, Ban is expected to join either a new political party, which may be created by the Saenuri's anti-Park faction, or a so-called "third playing field" where non-mainstreamers from both ruling and opposition blocs compete to field a single candidate.
The absence of experience in domestic politics was cited as Ban's weakest point in running for president. The expert said that if the Minjoo Party puts forward a single candidate via primary, divided support among separate contenders will be centered on the single choice amid surging wish for transfer of power to the opposition bloc.
Lee Jae-myung of the Minjoo Party, mayor of Seongnam, a city to the southeast of capital Seoul, made a meteoric rise in recent surveys, moving into a third place for his active participation in candlelight vigils and his popular social welfare services including free postnatal care to new mothers, free school uniforms to secondary school students and cash handouts to all of the 24-year-old youths.
Mayor Lee, the expert said, has recently done the most talented performance as he aggressively sought to represent the public fury in candlelit vigils over the Park Geun-hye administration in contrast to Moon Jae-in who initially took cautious stance on the weekend protest rallies.
In addition to his political competence, Lee has proven his administrative capability as Seongnam mayor through progressive social welfare policies, which can broaden his appeal to traditionally conservative voters, said the expert who described Mayor Lee as a dark horse in the early presidential race.
Ahn Cheol-soo of the minor opposition People's Party came in fourth in presidential surveys. Ahn, the rising star in the 2012 election who withdrew his presidency to throw his support behind Moon, defected from the Minjoo Party and created the People's Party in February this year to take his own line.
The political commentator said Ahn suffered from relatively heavy damages from the impeachment as public support tends to be cut into two extremes under a political instability, noting that his party was launched as an alternative political power separately from both Saenuri and Minjoo parties.
Ahn represented public wish for new politics in the 2012 presidential election, but he has currently become one of the established politicians who cannot stir up a "new wind" in the political arena any more, said the expert.