It was widely expected that the Irish nationalist party, Sinn Fein, would win the most seats in Thursday’s elections to the Northern Ireland legislature, an outcome that would mark an extraordinary maturing of a political party many still associate with years of paramilitary violence.
It would also be a momentous shift in Northern Ireland, one that could wipe out the power-sharing arrangements that have kept a fragile peace for two decades since the signing of the Good Friday peace agreement.
In polls last week, Sinn Fein was two to six percentage points ahead of the Democratic Unionist Party, which favors Northern Ireland’s current status as part of the United Kingdom. The results are expected on Saturday.
Sinn Fein has run a campaign that emphasizes concerns at the kitchen table, such as the high cost of living and the need for better health care – and has highlighted the party’s ideological commitment to Irish unification, a legacy of its ties to Irish Republican Army, undermines.
Irish unification, party leaders say, is a matter of the horizon, over which Sinn Fein has limited control. It is up to the British government to hold a referendum on whether Northern Ireland should remain with the United Kingdom or join the Republic of Ireland.
The only immediate effect of a Sinn Fein victory would be the right to appoint the prime minister in the next government. The union members, who are split into three parties, could still win the largest number of votes, according to political analysts.
“I hope that when the political unions pass this democratic test next week, they will accept the vote of the people, whatever that is,” said John Finucane, a Sinn Fein Member of the British Parliament who led the party’s campaign. leads. “Painting this in an us-versus-them context, after the election, is potentially dangerous.”