THE DUP and Sinn Féin are poised for resounding success in the North’s Assembly elections, with predictions of significant losses for the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP).
But the results will come against the background of a record low voter turnout, which is predicted to reach a figure of 55% or lower.
The election process has also been hit by slow vote counting across the North, with the first handful of results declared 20 hours after the polls closed and 10 hours after ballot boxes were opened.
Election officials blamed the complexity of having to deal with ballot papers from the Assembly election, local council elections and the British AV referendum at the same time.
But tallies of party performance gave clear indications of a strong showing by the DUP and Sinn Féin, as well as gains for the cross-community Alliance Party.
DUP leader Peter Robinson said: “It is very pleasing and rewarding to hear that right across the province our candidates are doing so well because they put a lot of work into it.
“We didn’t ask for a mandate from the people to enhance the standing of the Democratic Unionist Party, we asked for a mandate to keep Northern Ireland moving forward.”
Mr Robinson was set to romp home in East Belfast despite having lost the constituency’s Westminster seat in the general election.
Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness said there was “considerable dismay” over the delay in vote counting.
But he welcomed signs of success for Sinn Féin and said the electorate was endorsing the parties who had co-operated to deliver for people at Stormont.
His claims were endorsed by party president Gerry Adams, who visited the count centre dealing with his former west Belfast constituency.
Mr Adams said he believed his party was set to have a good election.
He argued that Sinn Féin had been reinvigorated by its recent success in the Republic’s general election, in which his party had secured 14 Dáil seats.
Mr Adams said: “I think the problem for the SDLP and the UUP is that rather than joining in the Executive, keeping their own particular identity and working with the rest of us, they tried to cast themselves very artificially as being in government and opposition at the same time. That doesn’t work.”
The final shape of the 108 seat Stormont legislature will be known tonight.
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