Sinn Fein becomes the largest party in Northern Ireland

Among the other likely big winners in the election was the Alliance, a centrist party that does not align itself with the Nationalists or the Unionists. Analysts said the party’s candidates have drawn the voices of ‘soft unionists’, suggesting past sectarian strife resonates less, especially among young voters, than day-to-day concerns like housing, jobs and healthcare health.

“A plurality of voters in Northern Ireland say they are neither nationalist nor unionist,” said Katy Hayward, a politics professor at Queen’s University Belfast. “Now there seems to be momentum behind this view.”

“Sinn Fein’s overriding point is, ‘We want to be in government,'” Prof Hayward said. “This is welcomed by people who are fed up with the dysfunctional government.”

In so-called first preference votes, which were reported on Friday evening, Sinn Fein won 250,388 votes, the Democratic Unionist Party 184,002 and the Alliance 116,681. Under the territory’s complicated voting system, the candidates with the highest number of votes automatically win seats in the assembly.

But voters can express additional preferences, and seats are allocated based on party vote shares. This means the final number of seats won by Sinn Fein and other parties will not be known until Saturday.

For all the symbolism, the victory was as much about the disarray of the Unionist movement as it was about the rise of the Nationalists. Unionists have been divided and demoralized since Brexit, largely because the Democratic Unionist Party endorsed the British government’s negotiation of a hybrid trade status for Northern Ireland, known as the Protocol.

The arrangement, which imposes border controls on goods moving from mainland Britain to Northern Ireland, has sparked a backlash among Unionist voters, many of whom complain it has driven a wedge between them and the rest of the UK. The British government, keen to appease trade unionists, is considering legislation that would eliminate parts of the trade protocol. But he hasn’t acted yet.

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