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Analysis Center outflanked in battle for votes

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Jack Holland

An examination of the post-electoral landscape in the North brings depressing news for the forces of the political center. They have been routed, with both David Trimble’s Ulster Unionist Party and John Hume’s Social Democratic and Labor Party suffering significant losses at the hands of Sinn Fein and the Rev. Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party.

Most observers agree that the losses will make it more difficult to reach a compromise between Unionists and Nationalists in their continuing struggle to sort out disagreements over the key issues of policing, demilitarization and decommissioning.

The UUP’s loss of five seats, and expected setbacks in the local elections, may well have delivered the coup de grace to Trimble’s leadership, guaranteeing a more hardline replacement.

The news for the SDLP is, if anything, worse. Sinn Fein has overtaken it as the party of the nationalist majority, albeit only by .7 percent of the votes cast. But the significance of the fact that Sinn Fein has now four seats to the SDLP’s three has deeper ramifications. Sinn Fein’s success seems to be a byproduct of the growth of the nationalist vote, mostly thanks to a rise in the number of younger voters. The failure of the SDLP seems to lie in the fact that it has failed to capture any of that new generation.

As a result, while there is no immediate threat to the SDLP leadership, as there is to that of the UUP, Hume, Seamus Mallon and Eddie O’Grady are looking old, spent and vulnerable. Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy came within 2,000 votes of Mallon, the party’s deputy leader. In South Down, the Sinn Fein vote doubled, most of it coming from new voters.

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