Allister may be helped by low turnout

 

NORTHERN IRELAND:WEATHER CONDITIONS were good for voting in the European elections in Northern Ireland yesterday, but still the indications were that many people were keeping away from the polling stations.

There is an expectation that the turnout will be below the 51 per cent turnout of 2004.

There was a general political concern that the controversy over Westminster expenses, which has filtered though to the Northern political consciousness, could result in a high level of voter apathy. At 7.30pm at one south Belfast polling station staff reported that voting was very low with turnout at that stage below one-third. “There appears to be a considerable disenchantment with politics and politicians,” said one official.

A Sinn Féin spokesman confirmed the general view of serious voter apathy. “It looks likely that the turnout will be well below 50 per cent,” he said, notwithstanding that there was a pick-up in the level of voting later last night. Over 1.154 million people in Northern Ireland were entitled to vote. The process of validating the hundreds of thousands of ballots cast takes place today after the polls closed in the North at 10pm last night.

After the votes are verified today, counting will begin centrally on Monday morning at the King’s Hall in south Belfast. The results of the election in the three-seater constituency are due to be known by late Monday evening.

A low turnout could boost the chances of the wildcard hardline candidate in the election, Jim Allister of the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) party. He is campaigning to have Sinn Féin forced out of the Northern Executive. His supporters are seen as highly-committed and unlikely to suffer from the same level of indifference or political apathy facing the other parties.

The outgoing Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún and DUP candidate Diane Dodds remained favourites to take the first two seats. But there is unpredictability about how the votes and the transfers will pan out thereafter.

The three main contenders for the final seat are likely to be outgoing MEP Jim Nicholson of the Ulster Conservatives and Unionists – New Force (UCUNF), Mr Allister of the TUV who defected from the DUP over the Stormont powersharing deal, and the SDLP’s Alban Maginness.

Odds were that Mr Nicholson would hold the third seat, but nonetheless no one was writing off the chances of Mr Allister causing a major upset. Equally, while seen as a longer shot, it was also acknowledged that there was a possibility of Mr Maginness taking a second nationalist seat because of unionist split voting.

Ian Parsley for Alliance and Steven Agnew for the Greens are hoping to improve the respective standings of their parties.