UUP vote collapses amid drop in turnout
UUP vote collapses amid drop in turnout

The dominant feature of the Six-County Assembly election, which is being counted today, is the sharp drop in turnout, although Sinn Fein are upbeat that they can increase their representation at Stormont.

Although official figures are not yet available, the percentage of registerd voters who took part in the election is down significantly, to between 50%-55% from 62.3% in the last Assembly election. In Fermanagh/South Tyrone, voter turnout fell to an unprecedented 60%, a decline of 10% from the last election.

The main victim of this decline was the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), and there have already been predictions that the party could lose its second ministry in the Six County executive to either the SDLP or the Alliance.

Amid reports of a near collapse in the UUP vote in some areas -- “freefall” according to some journalists -- it appeared all the other parties would benefit.

In North Antrim, where unionist hardliner Jim Allister should take a first seat for the TUV, it was believed the SDLP incumbent Declan O’Loan could edge the UUP for the final seat.

The UUP is also said to be in trouble in south and east Antrim, while in north Down, the DUP have said they will win a third seat, while the Alliance have also said they win a second. The UUP vote is down some 13% in that constituency.

Sinn Fein’s Johnny McGibbon is predicted to gain a seat for the party in Upper Bann.

In Strangford, David McNarry was battling to hold onto his seat from UUP colleague and former television presenter, Mike Nesbitt.

In Fermanagh/South Tyrone, the low turnout appeared to have benefited Sinn Fein, where the party hopes to win three out of six seats, a gain since the last election.

In West Tyrone, the SDLP is in trouble, and an independent gain is possible.

Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly was also cautiously optimistic about his party’s chances in north Belfast.

He said it was early days but Sinn Fein “had got a substantial about of our vote out”, despite reports of widespread voter apathy.

He predicted a change in the electoral fortunes in north Belfast and said he “would hope for three seats”, representing a potentially significant gain for the party in the constituency.

Overall, however, he cautioned that PR elections were about “stretching yourself” in the hope of “bringing other colleagues in”.

He said his party would be “happy if we return with the 28” seats the party held following the last Assembly election and would be “delighted to get more”.

The DUP are also likely to make several gains at the expense of the UUP in other unionist constituencies.

This suggests the prospects of Sinn Fein overhauling the DUP to become the largest party in the Assembly are slim, and Peter Robinson is likely to be returned as First Minister-elect when counting is completed tomorrow evening.

* In Scotland, the SNP is heading for a history victory in the race for the Scottish Parliament has already secured 63 seats and is on course to secure a seismic overall majority by winning 65 seats - the first time that will have been achieved, and a scenario previously considered almost impossible under the parliament’s electoral rules.

Further updates on the election results from the Six Counties, the elections in Britain and the AV referendum will be published here ater today.

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