by Frank Schnittger
Fri Mar 3rd, 2017 at 06:40:50 PM EST
[Updated with all counts completed]
Party: % Share of vote : Change since 2016: -> Seats
Sinn Fein 28% (+4% since May) -> 27
Democratic Unionist Party 28% (-1%) -> 28
Ulster Unionist Part 13% (0%) -> 10
Social Democrat and Labour Party 12% (0%) -> 12
Alliance 9% (+2%) -> 8
Smaller parties and Independents 10% (-6%) -> 5
Counting in the Northern Ireland elections has just been completed with all 90 seats filled. Turnout is up 10% from 55 to 65% compared to the last elections in May 2016. Early elections were called when Sinn Fein collapsed the Executive as a result of the "Cash for Ash"
scandal and deteriorating relationships with the DUP, the major Unionist party.
The other major issue is Brexit where the DUP campaigned for Brexit and the other major parties campaigned against with the result that Northern Ireland, as a whole, voted against Brexit in the referendum last June. The implications of Brexit for the N. Ireland economy and the border with the Republic were hotly debated throughout the campaign.
The election is taking place using a Single Transferable Vote (STV) system in 18 constituencies which have been reduced from 6 seats each to 5 as part of a cost saving "reform" reducing the Assembly from 108 seats to 90. In theory this should marginally favour the larger parties as the quota required for election becomes higher as a % of the total vote, the smaller the number of seats in a constituency.
The first count has been completed in each constituency (consisting of each voters first preference vote for a candidate). This reveals the overall % of the vote each party's candidates have attained which should be broadly reflected in the number of seats won by each party, although final totals will be influenced by lower preference votes and how "transfer friendly" a particular party is. The first preference vote broken down by party is as follows:
Sinn Fein 28% (+4% since May)
Democratic Unionist Party 28% (-1%)
Ulster Unionist Part 13% (0%)
Social Democrat and Labour Party 12% (0%)
Alliance 9% (+2%)
Smaller parties and Independents 10% (-6%)
The general conclusion has to be that voter engagement has increased significantly perhaps because the main issue was a "bread and butter" government incompetence and corruption scandal rather than a purely tribalistic headcount. The DUP, and their Leader, Arlene Foster have been damaged by her involvement in the affair. Sinn Fein has gained 4% and fewer than 1,200 first preference votes now separate the DUP and Sinn Fein which means Sinn Fein is within touching distance of becoming the largest party.
The non sectarian Alliance party has also done well and the main losers are a plethora of independents and smaller parties including the Traditional Unionist Voice, Green, and People before Profit parties.
The other main conclusion is that anti-Brexit parties have done relatively well and their large majority in the Assembly will heap pressure on the British Government to take Northern Ireland concerns into account.
Political speculation is that Sinn Fein are unlikely to re-enter the Executive while Arlene Foster remains the DUP leader with the result that the devolved administration may collapse and result in the instigation of direct rule from Westminster. This is one headache Theresa May does not need during the Brexit negotiations and the risk to the Peace Process posed by Brexit will now loom larger in the negotiations.