Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster has expressed confidence she will be returned as Northern Ireland’s first minister.
As the votes continue to be counted across the North, Ms Foster said her party was on course to emerge as the region’s largest party.
“I am confident that I will be the first minister of Northern Ireland,” she said after topping the poll in Fermanagh and South Tyrone. At 5pm, 21 of the 108 seats were filled. The Democratic Unionists had won nine, Sinn Féin eight, with one each for the Ulster Unionists, SDLP, Alliance Party, and People Before Profit Alliance.
Ms Foster added: “I feel great. It is a great endorsement of our campaign in Fermanagh and South Tyrone, and indeed across Northern Ireland, and I am absolutely delighted. I am confident that I will be the first minister of Northern Ireland.”
During the campaign, Ms Foster placed particular onus on beating Martin McGuinness in the race to see which one of them takes the first minister’s job ahead of the deputy first minister’s job.
A significant turnaround would be required for Sinn Féin to topple the DUP as the largest party.
The final outcome of the vote is not expected until this afternoon.
In a clear sign the larger parties will not have it all their own way, Gerry Carroll of the People Before Profit Alliance stormed home in west Belfast, topping the poll ahead of high-profile Sinn Féin rivals.
The count for the 18 constituencies in the proportional representation contest began at 8am on Friday with the process of verifying ballots.
The poll was the first chance to vote for people born after the historic Good Friday Agreement.
Eighteen years on from the signing of the 1998 peace accord which paved the way for a devolved power-sharing government, voters were selecting the latest batch of MLAs to represent them at Stormont. There were 276 candidates standing across the 18 constituencies.
The overall turnout of valid and invalid votes has fallen on the 2011 Assembly election, but only slightly.
More votes were actually cast than five years ago, but in the context of a larger electorate.
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