Election cliffhanger

Thursday, 2 March 2017

NORTH Antrim's 77,062 voters go to the polls this Thursday, (March 2) to elect their five new Assembly MLAs, with all eyes expected to be on the battle for the crucial final seat.
Twelve candidates are in the field, including all six former MLAs forced out when the Assembly collapsed in January following the Renewable Heating Incentive Scheme scandal.
The electorate is down by 1,468 on last May due to names being removed from the Electoral Register in December, but 1,225 new registrations were added in recent weeks - potentially enough to make a difference to the outcome in a tight race.
The drop in the numbers of seats from 6 to 5 means at least one outgoing MLA wil be out of a job.
If voting patterns are not altered significantly from last May the question is: who is going to lose out?
Based on last year's share of the first preference votes, it would seem two DUP, one Sinn Fein and the TUV seats are relatively secure.
Just who gets the fifth seat would appear to be a straight battle between Ulster Unionist, Robin Swann and the third DUP candidate, probably Phillip Logan, if last year's voting trend is repeated.
Candidates were spending the last 48 hours of the campaign knocking on doors throughout the constituency and appealing for support.
Six unionists, two independents and one each from Alliance, the SDLP, Sinn Fein and the Green Party are seeking election.
Three outgoing MLAs, Mervyn Storey, Paul Frew and Mr Logan are standing again for the DUP, one less than last May, which is a reflection of the fact that only five seats, one less than in 2016, are up for grabs and every first preference vote will be vital.
The unsuccessful fourth DUP candidate, David McIlveen, polled 3,209 first preference votes last May and the party's vote management strategy aims to ensure those votes are distributed in a way that maximises their chances of getting all three returned.
Mr Storey, who hails from Ballymoney, is the most experienced of the party's runners, and the only one who has held ministerial office, having been minister for Social Development under Peter Robinson's leadership.
Ballymena man, Mr Frew is the outgoing chair of the Assembly's Justice committee and a regular poll topper in the constituency.
*Read the full story in this week's Ballymena Guardian.


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