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By Joyce Ho

Taiwan’s incumbent ruling party, the Democratic People’s Party (DPP), may have been able to clinch a victory in a tight presidential race on Saturday, but it’s much too early to bask in the win. The low margin of victory and loss of the majority in the legislature may suggest that DPP has lost the hearts and souls of many of the Taiwanese public.

While the DPP won 40.05 percent of the total vote, approximately 7 percentage points ahead of the opposition Kuomintang Party (KMT), it failed to secure an absolute majority in the 113-seat legislature. Here, the KMT saw the biggest uptake in its share of the body, winning 52 seats — one more than the DPP. Voter turnout was also the second-lowest since the 1996 election, with only 71.9 percent of eligible voters casting their ballots, according to preliminary numbers from Taiwan’s Central Election Commission.

That the DPP was unable to win a majority is perhaps a symptom of its inability to inspire or resonate with the broader Taiwanese people, especially amid its corruption scandals, and #MeToo allegations.

This is not to diminish the accomplishments of the Taiwanese government during President Tsai Ing-wen’s tenure. In fact, she and the DPP scored many landmark victories from the legalization of gay marriage to increased global diplomacy to pushing Taiwan onto the world stage (think then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) incendiary 2022 visit to Taiwan). She also buckled down on the party’s stance on Taiwanese independence, which notably remarked that there’s no need for formal pronouncements of its independence since it was “already independent.”

Despite those successes, new President Lai Ching-te has his work cut out for him. The slim margins and rocky battle to secure the DPP’s victory make it clear that the party can no longer ride on the coattails of its predecessors.

In the lead up to the election, Tsai and Lai were famously pictured together in a campaign ad, sitting together in the front of a vehicle. In the ad, Tsai says: “Taiwan was not an easy car to drive. We faced many difficulties… but we were firmly on the road.” But the DPP can’t settle for steadily driving the car ahead. Lai needs to steer the party onto a stronger hardline, rather than sliding into a dull and unexciting middle ground. He can do that by taking an even tougher stance on China instead of wavering on his position, now saying that he takes a pragmatic approach to Taiwan’s independence and “has an affinity toward China as much as he loves Taiwan.”

The DPP itself has also faltered along the way, particularly in its friendships with authoritarian regimes in the hunt for diplomatic relations.