The Sinn Fein party of Northern Ireland, in favor of the unification of that British province with the Republic of Ireland, promised on Saturday to start a "new era" with his more than probable victory in the regional elections, although in order to govern he will have to overcome the threat of political paralysis.
The slow scrutiny of the elections that were held on Thursday to appoint the 90 legislators of the regional assembly gave Sinn Fein a slight advantage over the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), in favor of keeping Northern Ireland within the monarchy British.
In Belfast, the count so far gives Sinn Fein 27 of the 88 declared seats, against 24 for the DUP. But Sinn Fein has already won more first-preference votes (29% to 21.3% for the DUP), making it Northern Ireland’s biggest party, and a turnaround is ruled out.
"It seems that Sinn Fein is emerging as the first party" Northern Irish, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson admitted.
This would be the first time that the Republican Party heads the regional parliament since the partition of the island in 1921.
"This is a defining moment for our politics and our people"said Michelle O’Neill, the leader of Sinn Fein, a former IRA political arm.
"I will bring inclusive leadership that celebrates diversity and ensures rights and equality for those who have been excluded, discriminated against, or ignored in the past."he added.
risk of paralysis
The victory would propel O’Neill to the position of head of the local government.
But the Good Friday peace deal, which in 1998 ended three decades of bloody conflict between Catholic Republicans and Protestant Unionists, establishes a power-sharing between the two camps.
However, the negotiations are announced to be difficult, given that the unionists refuse to integrate the cabinet while the customs controls between the island and the rest of the United Kingdom, established by the Brexit agreements, persist.
In the eyes of the unionists, these controls threaten the unity of the country, made up of four nations, three of them (England, Scotland and Wales) located on the island of Great Britain and the other on Ireland.
The crisis in Northern Ireland loomed again in February with the resignation of the unionist head of government Paul Givan, precisely in disagreement with the customs rules of Brexit.
Another DUP leader, Edwin Poots, warned that negotiations could take "weeks, hopefully, even months".
O’Neill, who focused his campaign on economic and social issues, called on unionists to engage in a "healthy debate" and estimated that the priority of the new Executive should be the fight against the sharp rise in the cost of living.
In a statement, Ireland’s Note Minister Brandon Lewis called on all parties to form "sooner" an executive "fully functional".
The Irish Prime Minister, Micheal Martin, stressed that it was up to "all political parties and MPs (…) serve the interests of all people in Northern Ireland".
"Sinn Fein’s success is due to the weakness of unionism in a period of great change in the UK due to Brexit, but it does not represent a radical change of opinion in Northern Ireland in favor of reunification" with the Republic of Ireland, Katy Hayward, a political scientist at Queen’s University Belfast, told AFP.
Setbacks for Boris Johnson
Elsewhere in the UK, local elections marked a severe setback for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party, hit by the lockdown party scandal and rising prices.
The "Tories" they lost hundreds of seats and a dozen councils to the Labor Party, which gained control of the highly symbolic borough of Westminster, the seat of British political power, for the first time since its creation in 1964.
The centrist Liberal Democrat Party and the environmentalist Green Party also took several of the seats lost by the Conservatives.
In Wales, Labor remained in first place.
And in Scotland, the centre-left pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) gained strength, with Labor taking second place from the Conservatives.
Johnson, 57, scored a resounding victory when he came to power in 2019 promising to break years of political deadlock and get Brexit off the ground.
But this week’s results run the risk of reviving the internal rebellion of the Conservative Party, where some deputies contemplated the possibility of a motion of censure a few months ago.