Sinn Féin wins Belfast general election – POLITICO

BELFAST – Voters in Northern Ireland have for the first time elected an Irish Republican to jointly power the UK region’s government – ​​a historic verdict almost certain to be obstructed by British trade unionists.

Sinn Féin, long the second largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly, is on course to retain all 27 of its current seats in the 90-seat chamber with a record number of votes.

The rival Democratic Unionists who have led every power-sharing government in Belfast since 2007suffered significant losses in Thursday’s election that will leave him a painful second-place finish.

The election was not only a battle to form the next regional government, but also the first time voters had a chance to cast their vote on Northern Ireland’s unique trade arrangements, introduced after the UK left the European Union.

The DUP vowed to prevent Sinn Féin from running a power-sharing government unless the UK government first suspended EU-required controls on UK goods arriving in Northern Ireland ports, an act triggering EU trade retaliation could.

Since Brexit, Northern Ireland has remained in the EU’s single market for goods to avoid a politically problematic land border with the neighboring Republic of Ireland. With the rest of the UK having left the EU entirely, checks are now required on British goods arriving in Northern Ireland. Unionists vehemently oppose it, seeing it as an economic wedge between Britain and Northern Ireland, which has traditionally been dependent on British imports.

The UK is urging the EU to renegotiate the so-called protocol and is even considering legislation that would allow London to ignore parts of it.

With the final results pending Saturday, which will confirm the exact seat deficit of the Democratic Unionist Party to Sinn Féin, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson ruled out a quick revival of power-sharing with Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill as chair.

The newly elected assembly is due to meet next week to elect O’Neill as first minister and the DUP nominee as deputy first minister. It would be the first time since Ireland was partitioned a century ago that the British North will be led by a politician committed to ending its union with Britain.

But Donaldson – who received 12,626 votes in his Lagan Valley constituency, the best personal performance among the nearly 240 Assembly candidates in the election, followed by O’Neill’s 10,845 at their Mid Ulster base – said his party would not agree to either top post to occupy the Northern Ireland executive, the inter-community government at the heart of the 1998 peace accord.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson ruled out a power-sharing agreement with Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill as leader | Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

The leading party automatically claims the post of First Minister, while the largest party from the other side of the community has to make do with Deputy First Minister, the post previously occupied by O’Neill, who has been the leader of Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland since 2017. held. Both items must be completed as a joint ticket agreed between Sinn Féin and the DUP; Both sides can block the formation of a government.

“We need to see the UK government take decisive action against the protocol. Words are not enough,” Donaldson told reporters at a counting center north of Belfast. “We must remove the long shadow of Protocol from Northern Ireland’s political institutions. It is causing untold damage to Northern Ireland. The EU needs to hear this message loud and clear.”

Democratic Unionist candidates lost support in predominantly Protestant districts to an even tougher upstart, Traditional Unionist Voice, led by Jim Allister, a former DUP MEP. He left the DUP 15 years ago when they agreed to work in government with what they call the “unrepentant terrorists” from Sinn Féin – and so far the only elected TÜV assembly member.

While no TÜV candidate was confirmed as the winner on Friday, several won more votes than DUP candidates. This ensured, in some cases, that these lower-ranking DUP politicians were declared losers once the count of Northern Ireland’s multi-stage votes was completed.

Under the complex proportional voting rules of the election, voters rank the candidates in order of preference. Ballot papers must be counted and recalculated several times. In each round, the least popular surviving candidates are eliminated and their votes transferred to other politicians still in the running.

Donaldson said TUV, not Sinn Féin, was the reason his party lost crucial ground.

“A divided union movement doesn’t win elections,” he said.

The other big winner to emerge from Friday’s partial results is the cross-community Alliance Party, which could potentially double its current eight seats in Stormont to become the third largest party.

Alliance leader Naomi Long, acting justice minister in Northern Ireland’s outgoing five-party government, said she was ready to serve alongside Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionists in a potential new three-party coalition. But she said the incessant headbutting between these two polarized parties must end for power-sharing to work.

“We’ve heard since 1998 that this is all about managing partition,” she said, referring to the year of the Good Friday Peace Agreement, which saw an enduring partnership between the British Protestant and Irish Catholic blocs. These rules discriminate against middle-ground parties like Alliance, which do not legally define themselves as nationalist “green” or unionist “orange”.

“We want to go beyond that,” said Long, who led the East Belfast poll to retain her own Assembly seat. “We want to reconcile our community and create a united community, not one that is constantly divided along orange and green lines.”

The Alliance’s gains have been largely at the expense of other compromising parties: the Ulster Unionists (UUP) and the Social Democratic and Labor Party (SDLP), Sinn Féin’s moderate rival for Irish nationalist votes. The growing support for the alliance also seemed to knock out the only two Greens members in the assembly.

But an unprecedented number of nationalists, who now outnumber unionists among younger voters, opted for Sinn Féin. SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said he understood why.

Alliance leader Naomi Long said she was open to a three-party coalition with Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionists Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

“Nationalists wanted to send a message to the DUP,” said Eastwood, who retained his own seat in the SDLP’s traditional power base in Derry, Northern Ireland’s second largest city.

“When Jeffrey Donaldson refused to say that he would nominate an assistant first minister if a nationalist got the top job, it was a real affront to democracy,” he said. “It has fueled a sentiment within nationalism to have a nationalist ‘allowed’ to be prime minister. Even if you say it out loud, people have to get angry. So I totally understand the sentiment that led to this huge Sinn Féin vote.”

Sinn Féin won 29 percent of the preferred votes, up 1.1 percent from 2017 and a historic high; the DUP 21.3 percent, down 6.7 percent and its worst performance since 1998; Alliance 13.5 percent, up 4.5 percent; UUP 11.2 percent, down 1.7 percent; SDLP 9.1 percent, down 2.9 percent; TÜV 7.6 percent, up 5.1 percent; and Greens 1.9 percent, up 0.4 percent.

Of the confirmed wins on Friday night, Sinn Féin had secured 16 seats; Allianz and the DUP four each; the UUP three and the SDLP one. The count was expected to run past midnight and resume in some counties on Saturday morning. Sinn Féin wins Belfast general election - POLITICO

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