The Independent MLA who topped the poll in North Down a year after quitting the DUP has called for a unionist convention to urgently take place.
In his victory speech on Saturday at an almost deserted Jordanstown count centre in what was the fifth and final constituency declaration, Alex Easton also revealed that he had lost friends he “held dear” following his resignation.
The hot favourite to get elected in the first stage due to his huge personal vote, Easton romped home with 9,568 first preference votes – an increase of more than 1,500 votes on his 2017 tally.
Appealing to unionist leaders – including himself – to “get over their egos” and “do what’s right for the population of Northern Ireland”, Mr Easton said it had been a “difficult election for unionism”.
“I am calling for a unionist convention to be convened after the election so that unionism can meet, sort its differences out and get its act together because we can’t afford not to.”
The Alliance surge continued with incumbent Andrew Muir and running mate Connie Egan returned at the expense of the Green party's Rachel Woods.
Mr Muir received 6,838 first preference votes and paid tribute to Woods’ work as a former MLA, saying he regarded her as a “friend”, remarking that politics is a “cruel game”.
Mr Egan, who topped the poll in the Bangor west local government elections in 2019 when she was just 24-years-old, was elected on the ninth count following a surge in transfers.
The final candidate to make a speech at the podium after the lengthy two day count, Ms Egan noted the last time a woman was elected to North Down was in 2003, adding it was “so important” the Assembly make-up is “reflective of society”.
Meanwhile, the DUP's Stephen Dunne, who was co-opted onto a Stormont Assembly seat in place of his father just a week after his death last June, was re-elected at the sixth count.
UUP Stalwart Alan Chambers completed the line-up and was elected on the ninth count after polling 3,825 votes.
Elected: Alex Easton (Independent), Andrew Muir (Alliance), Stephen Dunne (DUP), Alan Chambers (UUP) Connie Egan (Alliance)