Michelle O’Neill’s election as prime minister should not be quick

Sinn Féin will nominate Michelle O’Neill as prime minister of the North this week, having won the most seats in the Assembly elections.

It would be the first time in Northern Irish history that the position would be held by a nationalist.

“Today represents a very significant moment of change,” said Ms. O’Neill in her acceptance speech on being elected to her Mid Ulster constituency. “Regardless of religious, political or social backgrounds, my commitment is to make politics work,” she said.

The party successfully retained the 27 seats it held in the last election to return the same number of members of the Assembly (MLAs) as in 2017.

The DUP lost three seats to return 25 MLAs. This will entitle him to the post of deputy prime minister, although he has signaled that he will not take over until the issues surrounding Northern Ireland’s protocol – which the party opposes – are resolved to his satisfaction.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said his party “held strong” and that the union vote remained strong. Speaking to the BBC, he said party officials would meet this week to consider “what we need to do now to get the necessary action from the [UK] government.”

As the functions of Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister are joint, and one cannot exercise power without the other, it is unlikely that a functioning Executive will be formed and that there will be a negotiation period, which may initially last up to six months. If the impasse cannot be resolved, there may be another election.

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The other big winner was the cross-community Alliance Party, which more than doubled its number of seats compared to 2017, returning 17 MLAs.

Alliance leader Naomi Long emphasized the importance of a functional executive, saying that “we need to get in there [Stormont] on Monday because without government we cannot deliver anything in Northern Ireland.

“I think, considering all the challenges we face, if we miss this opportunity, people won’t forgive us, so we need to get in there,” she said.

Sinn Féin added 25,000 to its 2017 count to gain more than 250,000 first-preference votes and increased its share of the first-preference vote by one percent to 29 percent.

The DUP has seen its number of first preference votes drop by 40,000 to 184,000 and its share of votes drop by nearly 7% to 21%.

Alliance won over 116,000 first preferences – an increase of nearly 44,000 compared to 2017 – and increased its vote share by 4.5% to 13.5%.

It overtook the UUP and SDLP to become the third largest party in the Assembly and will now be entitled to an additional ministry in the Executive.

The big loser was the SDLP, which lost four seats to eight – with a 2.9 drop in its vote percentage, leaving it at 9% – as the party found itself squeezed between Sinn Féin and Alliance.

The most prominent candidate to lose a seat was deputy party leader and infrastructure minister Nichola Mallon, who lost to Alliance’s Nuala McAllister in north Belfast.

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Another big surprise came in North Antrim, where Patricia O’Lynn became the Alliance’s first MLA and the first woman to hold a constituency seat, defeating DUP veteran Mervyn Storey in what was previously considered the heart of the DUP.

Although for a time UUP leader Doug Beattie and one of his high-profile MLAs, Mike Nesbitt, were under threat, both survived and kept their seats; its vote percentage dropped from 1.7 to 11.2 percent, with a final count of nine seats – a loss of one.

Despite its increase in voting, the Traditional Unionist Voice did not get any seats other than its leader, Jim Allister, after its best chance for a second seat, Stephen Cooper, was eliminated in Strangford.

The Green Party – which previously held two seats – lost all of its representation in the Assembly after its outgoing MLAs, including party leader Clare Bailey, failed to win re-election.

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