South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol's branding of critics as "communist totalitarian and anti-state forces" may rally his conservative base and distract from unease about some of his policies, but it risks fueling division and alienating some voters.

In South Korea, the label of communist carries higher stakes than in many Western democracies with the ongoing threat from ostensibly communist North Korea and Cold War-era laws that effectively ban activities deemed related to communism.

Yoon's remarks and the renewed public debate over communism come with his approval ratings slipping and political tensions rising ahead of a general election in April.