Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was battered in nationwide local elections held last weekend. In the wake of the drubbing, President Tsai Ing-wen announced that she would step down as party chair. The outcome heralds a difficult two more years for Tsai as she completes her term as president, and likely anticipates a renewed campaign by the government in Beijing to pressure Taipei to build closer ties with the mainland.

Tsai became Taiwan's first female president in 2016, riding a landslide for the DPP: The party then won 56 percent of the vote, a tally that fell to 39 percent in this ballot. Support for its rival, the Kuomintang (KMT), rose from 31 percent in 2016 to 49 percent last weekend. Voters rejected DPP candidates across the island, with the number of DPP-controlled cities and counties falling from 18 to six. The KMT won 15 of the contests, with an independent holding on to the mayor's job in the capital city of Taipei to claim a second term. In an especially painful blow, the KMT candidate prevailed in the southern port city of Kaohsiung, where the DPP has ruled for 20 years. More embarrassing still, the KMT candidate was a political outsider who ran a populist campaign and was thought to have little chance of success.

The outcome was a referendum on the Tsai administration. A DPP stalwart, she pledged to put more distance between Taiwan and China, and to revitalize an economy that had slowed and remained sluggish. She promised labor reform and pension cuts — both of which were unpopular — in the hope of spurring wage increases that never occurred.