Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has denied his party is "running scared" in Lagan Valley after only selecting two candidates for the upcoming Assembly election.
He said they considered running three but opted for two in order to "maximise" the unionist representation in the Assembly.
The constituency has been the centre of a selection battle after the DUP leader put his name forward to run in the constituency.
Last week Sir Jeffrey and former First Minister Paul Givan were ratified as the party's candidates for Lagan Valley.
The DUP leader told UTV "initially we did look at the prospect of running three candidates with the potential of winning two seats, but putting down a marker for the future".
"But I want to maximise unionist representation in the Assembly.
"I want to maximise unionist cooperation and therefore what we are doing is encouraging our voters once they voted for myself and Paul Given to transfer their votes to the other unionist candidates so that we maximise unionist representation at Stormont.
"I hope that the other unionist parties will follow suit on this as well, because I think that cooperation is essential."
Many considered the DUP winning three seats in Lagan Valley a long shot. That uncertainty resulted in long standing MLA Edwin Posts having to seek a seat elsewhere.
He was co-opted into South Belfast to replace Christopher Stalford after his death earlier this year.
It had been speculated Paul Rankin, who replaced the agriculture minister in Lagan Valley, would be the third candidate for the upcoming election.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson rejected suggestions his party was "running scared" by opting to run two candidates.
"Far from running from the electorate, we're taking our case to the people," he added.
"I said last September, that is what we wanted to do. We put forward a strong team of candidates across Northern Ireland and we are aiming to win this election.
"That's what I'm in the business of doing. Winning the election for unionism to secure the future of Northern Ireland and to stop this nonsense of Sinn Fein's demand for a border poll."
Pushed on his intentions post-election and whether or not he intends to resign as an MP immediately Sir Jeffrey told UTV: "I've made my position clear. I want the DUP to win the election."
"I want to be the first Minister of Northern Ireland and to lead Northern Ireland forward. That's why I'm going forward in this election.
"But we do need to resolve the other issues that are out there, including, of course, the problems created by the Northern Ireland Protocol and tackle the issues like the cost of living crisis in Northern Ireland and the place to do that is in Stormont."
"I will be making my position absolutely clear to the people of Lagan Valley when I put my name forward as a candidate for the Assembly."