Deepening internal strife and a series of political blunders are throwing the campaign of the leading presidential candidate from South Korea's opposition into disarray, sending his poll numbers nose-diving and giving a boost to rivals.

Yoon Suk-yeol, the flag bearer of the conservative People Power Party, is set to face off against his rival from the ruling Democratic Party, Lee Jae-myung, in the March 9 presidential election.

Housing prices and other domestic issues are largely expected to sway voter sentiment, but the election would shape Seoul's balancing act between the United States and China, and how South Korea coordinates with Washington on North Korea.