Lengthy, nail-biting count in store for election hopefuls

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THE new line-up of MLAs for East Antrim, South Antrim and North Belfast is likely to be announced late tomorrow (Friday) evening.

Counting of votes cast today (May 5) for the 34 candidates will begin at the Valley Leisure Centre in the morning, but the lengthy proportional representation system may not produce the last local Assembly member until late in the evening. The option is also there for counting to continue into Saturday.

It will be a long, nail-biting wait for some, with the tail-enders sweating on the outcome of votes transferred from successful and eliminated candidates over a succession of counts as a total of six MLAs are chosen to represent each constituency in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

In East Antrim, where MP Sammy Wilson is an odds on favourite to top the poll, a total of 13 hopefuls face an anxious wait at the count centre.

The DUP are again expected to take the lion’s share of the votes, but with veteran UUP and Alliance MLAs Ken Robinson and Sean Neeson both standing down, the constituency will send at least two new faces to Stormont.

Sinn Fein’s Mitchel McLaughlin will be hoping to top the South Antrim poll as he did in 2007, and with the unionist vote split six ways he is likely to do so again.

The DUP will be confident of winning at least two seats, with hopes of snatching a third. However, the TUV will be looking to make gains at the DUP’s expense.

With the DUP (2), UUP, Sinn Fein and Alliance likely to take the first five seats, it promises to be an interesting battle for the sixth, with the SDLP hoping to hold on at the expense of another pro-union candidate.

Eleven candidates will battle it out in North Belfast, where the DUP, despite being without Nigel Dodds on the ticket for the first time in almost 20 years, are still likely to dominate alongside Sinn Fein, whose candidate Gerry Kelly is favourite with the bookmakers to top the poll. The SDLP and UUP will be hopeful of holding their seats, but the Alliance Party will be aiming to build on their improved performance in last year’s Westminster election and cause an upset.

Meanwhile, the 38 candidates battling it out for the 25 seats on Newtownabbey Borough Council in the local government election will have to wait until the start of next week to learn their fate.

Counting in the council poll will take place at the Valley Leisure Centre on Monday (May 9), with the centre remaining closed on Tuesday in case the count goes into a second day.

The closest contest could well be in the University District Electoral Area (DEA) where a line-up of 13 candidates will contest just seven seats, while the seven Antrim Line representatives will be chosen from a list of 10 hopefuls.

There are just eight candidates bidding for six places in the Macedon DEA, and only seven fighting for five seats in Ballyclare.

n See next week’s Times for full local results and reaction...