Sinn Fein set for historic win in Northern Ireland election
With about 51 of 90 seats counted so far, results showed that Sinn Fein has 18 seats, while the Democratic Unionist Party, which has been the largest in the Northern Ireland Assembly for two decades, have 14.
Unionist parties have led the government since Northern Ireland was formed as a Protestant-majority state in 1921.
While a win by Sinn Fein would be a historic shift in support for unionist parties it is not clear what will happen next.
Under a mandatory power-sharing system created by the 1998 peace agreement that ended decades of Catholic-Protestant conflict, the jobs of first minister and deputy first minister are split between the biggest unionist party and the largest nationalist one.
Both positions must be filled in order for a government, but the Democratic Unionist Party suggested that it might not serve as a Sinn Fein first Minister.
The DUP also stated that it would not join a new government until there are significant changes to the post-Brexit border arrangements known as the Northern Ireland Protocol. This protocol is opposed by many unionists. The post-Brexit rules imposed customs and borders checks on some goods entering Northern Ireland via the U.K. This arrangement was made to maintain an open border between Northern Ireland (EU member Ireland) and the rest of the U.K., which is a key pillar in the peace process.
But the arrangement angered unionists who claim that the new checks have created an obstacle between Northern Ireland and the rest U.K., which undermines their British identity. In February, Paul Givan, the DUP’s first minister, resigned after tensions from Brexit triggered a new political crisis in Northern Ireland.
Polling expert John Curtice from the University of Strathclyde said that the Northern Ireland results were a result of Brexit.
” The divisions within the community about whether the Northern Ireland Protocol can be amended satisfactorily, or whether it should be scrapped have caused the unionist vote to fragment,” Curtice wrote on the BBC website.
Persuading the DUP to join a new government will pose a headache for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, he added.
Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill said the party wanted to work “in partnership with others.”
“That is the only way we will achieve much, much more for people here, whether in terms of the cost-of-living crisis or trying to fix our health service,” she said.
She stated that there would not be any constitutional changes in relation to Irish unification until the voters decide. Mary Lou McDonald, leader of
Party, indicated Friday that any unity referendum could be planned within the next five-years.
The full results of the election which used a system of proportional representative were expected to be announced later in the weekend.
Next week, the new legislators will meet to form an executive. If no new legislators can be formed within six month, the administration will fall. This will trigger a new election and further uncertainty.
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