The choice they face is stark. Do they vote for candidates that are committed to working the agreement or do they opt for those parties that are determined to wreck the historic accord?
With the overwhelming number of nationalist and republican voters expected to lend their continued support to the SDLP and Sinn Fein, both of which are fully behind power sharing, unionists are irrevocably spilt over the future of the democratic institutions.
The Rev. Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party has made it clear it will not do its utmost to scupper the GFA. It is calling for a renegotiation of the agreement and has said it will not share power with Sinn Fein. A significant number of Ulster Unionist candidates, including prominent dissident Jeffrey Donaldson, are expected to team with Paisley’s party in opposing the nomination of republican assembly members to cabinet positions.
Unionist voters hold the future of the agreement in their hands. Will they vote for pro-agreement candidates or will they allow Paisley and the UUP wreckers to hold sway in the assembly?
With most observers anticipating the return of an anti-agreement unionist majority, it is unlikely that moves toward the restoration of a devolved government will get anywhere.
Paisley has said that pro-agreement supporters will have the choice of the unionist electorate forced down their “thick gullets.” If he heads up the largest unionist party in the assembly on Thursday, then the DUP, with the assistance of UUP rebels, will set about taking apart the agreement.
The review process that follows the election will become a platform from where Paisley will demand a “new agreement.” Such an agreement, the DUP says, will exclude Sinn Fein from government.
If, as many expect, Sinn Fein becomes the largest nationalist party in the North, this will lead to the disenfranchisement of the majority of nationalists in the Six Counties. Despite speculation that the DUP may find a compromise that allows Sinn Fein into government and in the process helps Paisley save face, power sharing is likely to be put into “deep freeze” until Paisley is replaced as party leader.
That is unless the unionist electorate surprises us all and deals an unequivocal blow to the DUP and Donaldson.