The Democratic Party can claim victory in the inaugural election of the SAR legislature, but it should see the real battle has just begun. Led by Martin Lee Chu-ming, the Democrats clinched nine of the 20 geographical seats, outnumbering their arch-rival, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB), by four. With the impressive 53 per cent turnout rate, the Democrats are in a position to declare they are armed with a powerful mandate: 634,635 votes or 42.6 per cent of the ballots cast on Sunday were in support of the party, solid proof that they remained the most popular political party and that voters were determined to get them back into the legislature. To date, the Democrats' major appeal has always been their political positioning - that they are ready and able to speak out on human rights and democracy, and to say no to Beijing's interference in Hong Kong's internal affairs. This makes them stand out from the pro-Beijing parties. But with the change in sovereignty and with China acting with more restraint when dealing with Hong Kong issues, will this last forever? Has Hong Kong changed? Have voters' priorities shifted? Is it time for the Democrats to rethink their position to keep up with this? These are questions the Democrats should seriously address now the election is over. At a glance, they did well, snapping up 42.6 per cent of all votes cast, compared with the DAB's 25 per cent. But if an in-depth analysis shows the Democrats have performed outstandingly, the DAB's achievement is also impressive. Yes, the Democrats managed to get 249,207 more votes on Sunday than they won in the 1995 geographical elections, but a jump in support of similar order was also recorded by the DAB. More importantly, the percentage rise is an impressive 185 per cent over the 130,814 votes the DAB secured in 1995. A direct interpretation of the results clearly points to the DAB's potential to catch up fast with the Democrats in mobilising voters' backing. And the indirect implication must be that the political position which the Democrats champion is no longer the single most important factor to voters, especially among those who bear no strong political convictions. A defender of grassroots interest, DAB leader Chan Yuen-han's outstanding performance in the Kowloon East constituency, where her list grabbed more than 109,296 votes - only 36,700 fewer than rival Szeto Wah's - is telling proof of how political issues may play second fiddle to livelihood matters. The Democrats cannot afford to ignore this shift in voters' mood. Given the community's changing priorities, they have to face the reality that the DAB is emerging as a powerful rival to the pro-democracy camp. To remain the most popular party, the Democrats have to ask what more they can do for the voters. If the ideas and suggestions outlined in their platform on livelihood issues are so similar to the DAB's, they will become no more competitive than the pro-Beijing party. There is no room for complacency. Of course a party which stands for democracy must continue to fight hard for Hong Kong's democratisation. But it is equally important that more effort is put into studying social and economic policies. To consolidate their support, the Democrats need to do more solid work. Hong Kong people do not just look to the party to steer them politically, they are also hoping the Democrats can demonstrate their leadership and skills in handling other aspects of life. This is a new challenge and it is the time for the party to take a fresh approach. It should never forget that responding to changing community needs is the only guarantee of future success.