The Democratic Unionist Party has won Northern Ireland's elections. The nationalist Sinn Fein, the DUP's erstwhile governing partner, enjoyed a historic surge in support.
The Democratic Unionist Party won Northern Ireland's parliamentary elections, according to results announced Saturday, edging ahead of Sinn Fein by a single seat. At 65 percent, voters turned out in their highest numbers in Thursday's vote, the UK's first regional election since last summer's Brexit referendum.
"Let us now move forward with hope - hope that civility can return to our politics," Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster, who appeared likely to step down as head of the DUP, said after the results emerged.
Sinn Fein pressed Foster to step down pending an investigation of a botched energy scheme that could cost taxpayers 500 million pounds (609 million euros/$615 million), but she stood her ground and accused the nationalists of politicizing the issue. Former Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness triggered the election by resigning in January, declaring the vote a referendum on Foster's leadership.
Unionist candidates, Protestants' preferred choice, captured less than half the seats for the first time. The DUP won 28 of the 90 seats, but the surging Sinn Fein almost wiped out the 10-seat advantage that the unionists had secured in elections a year ago.
An 'amazing day'
Sinn Fein, which favors uniting Ireland, had never come so close to toppling the pro-crown DUP. In a contest with 1.25 million voters and more than 800,000 ballots cast, barely more than 1,000 votes split the main parties - making it the assembly's closest election yet.
Sinn Fein leader Michelle O'Neill, the daughter of an Irish Republican Army (IRA) veteran, said the nationalists had an "amazing day."
The parties have three weeks to form a government to avoid Northern Ireland's devolved power returning to the UK Parliament at Westminster for the first time in a decade. But with relations at their lowest point in a decade, Sinn Fein has insisted that Foster step aside while months of investigations begin into a botched green energy scheme she established - or the party will not re-enter government. Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said he could not guarantee that London would not resume direct rule over Northern Ireland's 1.8 million people.
The United Kingdom created the nation of Northern Ireland in 1920 to ensure a Protestant-majority territory on an otherwise overwhelmingly Catholic island. Sinn Fein disarmed in 2005.
mkg/bw (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)