UPDATE 3, May 7:
Sinn Féin has secured an historic election win in Northern Ireland, the first time an Irish republican party has topped the vote since the 1921 partition of the six counties. With 88 of 90 seats decided, the nationalists have held the 27-seat total of the 2017 election, while the unionist DUP has dropped to three seats to 25. The moderate, non-sectarian Alliance Party has finished third with 17 seats, more than double the eight members elected in the last election.
“This was a significantly and symbolically damaging (outcome) for unionism,” The Irish Times says.
While Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has said a border referendum on a united Ireland is possible in five years, the first order of business will be establishing the power-sharing Executive, which the DUP collapsed earlier this year in protest against Brexit-related trade restrictions. The party has vowed not to re-enter government until its concerns are met.
A second story line is emerging in the election: the centrist, non-sectarian Alliance Party has doubled its vote total since the 2017 poll to 16 seats as Sinn Féin remains on pace to win the most seats. As of midday Saturday (U.S. Eastern), 77 of 90 races had been decided.
“The rise of the nonaligned middle ground, signaled clearly in a breakthrough result for the Alliance may prove to be the most significant aspect of the elections,” Irish Times Political Editor Pat Leahy writes as the vote is still counted. “Perhaps the most important long-term implication of the results is the accelerating emergence of the third pillar of Northern Irish politics and society: the ‘neithers’, neither tribally orange nor green, identifying not as unionist nor nationalist, not British nor Irish but Northern Irish.”
UPDATE 2, May 6:
“Sinn Féin has topped the first preference vote with a 29 percent share and is on course to become the largest party at Stormont while the DUP received 21.3 percent share of the first preference vote – a drop of 7 percent since the last Assembly election in 2017,” the Belfast Telegraph reports. The nationalist party added 1.1 percent to its total. The centrist Alliance Party gained 4.5 percent first preference votes, while the hardline Traditional Unionist Voice, which split off from the DUP in 2007, surged 5.1 percent.
The Irish Times says the DUP, which was the largest party in the last Assembly with 28 seats, is in danger of dropping two or more seats. Sinn Féin is likely to at least hold the 27 seats it won in 2017 and therefore in position as the party leader in the North. A pickup of additional seats would make even more headlines.
Sinn Féin Vice President Michelle O’Neill, the nationalist party’s Northern Ireland leader, and DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, have each been re-elected. The pair are key figures in whatever happens in the Northern Ireland Assembly once the full election results become clear.
The early vote tally as of midday in the Eastern United States was Sinn Féin, 10; DUP, 2; Alliance 2; and UUP, 1. That leaves 75 seat to still be decided. The final outcome is not expected until May 7.
UPDATE 1, May 5:
Voting has ended in the Northern Ireland Assembly elections. Counting begins Friday morning, May 6, at centers in Belfast, Jordanstown, and Magherafelt. The first results are expected by late morning U.S. Eastern time.
Officials have given a preliminary turnout estimate of 54 percent. The official final turnout figure in the 2017 Assembly election was 64 percent.
ORIGINAL POST, May 5:
The Belfast Telegraph reported that the major political party leaders voted early in day: Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill in Clonoe; Democratic Unionist Party’s (DUP) Sir Jeffrey Donaldson in Dromore; Ulster Unionist Party’s (UUP) Doug Beattie in Portadown; Alliance’s Naomi Long in East Belfast; Social Democratic and Labor Party’s (SDLP) Colum Eastwood in Derry, and Traditional Unionist Voice’s (TUV) Jim Allister in Kells.
The Assembly uses the single transferable vote system, which ranks candidates by preference. Five representatives are elected in each of 18 constituencies across the six counties for a total of 90 members of the legislative assembly (MLAs). A total of 239 candidates are running, including a record 87 women.
Sinn Féin is fielding 34 candidates, followed by the DUP with 30. UUP has 27, Alliance, 24; SDLP, 22; TUV, 19; the Green Party, 18; and People Before Profit, 12.
In 2017, DUP won 28 seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly, one more than Sinn Féin’s 27 MLAs. The SDLP won 12 seats, UUP picked up 10, Alliance had eight, the Green Party two seats, and People Before Profit and the TUV had one MLA each.