Northern Ireland Assembly election count enters final stretch
Published 07/05/2016 | 13:54
The count for the Northern Ireland Assembly is entering the final stretch, with around 100 of the region's 108 MLAs now elected.
The Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein remain on course to retain their position as the major parties in the power-sharing coalition administration at Stormont.
Both parties may even return with exactly the same number of seats they went in to the Assembly election with.
The DUP is confident of replicating its 38 wins of 2011 and Sinn Fein could also secure the 29 it achieved five years ago.
So it will be essentially "as you were" for the region's largest parties in the next Assembly.
At 1pm, 97 seats had been filled. The DUP had 37, Sinn Fein 22, the Ulster Unionists 15, the SDLP 11, Alliance seven, People Before Profit Alliance two, Green Party two and Traditional Unionist Voice one.
Alliance is also set to return to the Assembly with the same number of seats it had last time round - eight.
In one of the most high-profile races still to run, outgoing Sinn Fein education minister John O'Dowd faces a battle with former SDLP deputy leader Dolores Kelly to take the final seat in Upper Bann.
Four constituencies were still to declare at 1pm - Upper Bann, North Down, West Tyrone and East Londonderry.
DUP supporters are ecstatic with the performance, as many pundits had predicted a decrease on what was widely considered a high water mark in 2011.
Sinn Fein may now miss out on the 30 seats that would have handed it the electoral strength to veto Assembly legislation using the much maligned "petition of concern" voting mechanism.
The SDLP and Ulster Unionists had disappointing elections, failing to mount a significant challenge to the hegemony of the major government partners.
The SDLP was set to return with a decreased number of seats and while the UUP is on course to take 16 seats, like it did in 2011, it did not make the inroads leader Mike Nesbitt had predicted.
The new power-sharing administration is set to face vocal criticism from the opposition benches at Stormont after the People Before Profit Alliance (PBPA) won two seats. In a remarkable performance for the socialist anti-austerity party, Gerry Carroll topped the poll in Sinn Fein's west Belfast heartland while veteran civil rights campaigner Eamonn McCann won a seat in Foyle.
The Green Party also secured two seats in the new mandate, with party leader Steven Agnew and Clare Bailey winning through.
Jim Allister, leader of the TUV and arch-critic of the last administration, retained his seat, though failed to bring any colleagues in with him.
During the campaign, DUP leader Arlene Foster placed particular onus on beating Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness in the race to see which one of them took the First Minister's job ahead of the Deputy First Minister's job.
Alliance leader David Ford has said he was happy with his party's performance.
"We have held our eight seats, including three where we changed the sitting MLA. Unfortunately we had three or four near misses where the hoped-for gains didn't materialise."
Mr Ford denied that Alliance has stalled in 2016. "Consolidation is a better description," he said.
Among the most high-profile political casualties was independent unionist John McCallister who lost his South Down seat after nine years.
The Alliance Party's Naomi Long and Sinn Fein's Michelle Gildernew will be making a return to the Stormont benches after previously serving as MPs.
Jenny Palmer, who quit the DUP amid allegations she had been bullied, took a seat from her former party when she was elected for the Ulster Unionists in Lagan Valley.
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt topped the poll in Strangford.
Former DUP health minister Jim Wells, who was embroiled in a series of controversies in the last term, was also re-elected in South Down.
The SDLP faced a tight battle to retain its single seat in West Belfast with Alex Attwood narrowly pipping the DUP's Frank McCoubrey by 89 votes.
In South Belfast, Claire Hannah, who was co-opted into the Assembly when former SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell stood down, proved successful in her first test at the Assembly polls and was elected just after midnight.
Her running mate, former television reporter Fearghal McKinney was eliminated at stage 10.
Colum Eastwood, who was embarking on his first election as SDLP leader, retained his seat in Foyle.
Sinn Fein's Culture Arts and Leisure Minister Caral Ni Chuilin was also returned for another term in North Belfast, as was Gerry Kelly.
Former DUP political adviser Emma Pengelly, who was co-opted into the last Assembly, won a seat in her own right in South Belfast, as did former DUP Belfast deputy mayor Christopher Stalford.