WITH 13 candidates eyeing up six seats, Fermanagh and South Tyrone looks set to live up to its reputation for cliffhanger drama in this week’s Assembly Elections.
Memories of last year’s sensational Westminister election that saw the UUP’s Tom Elliot unseat Michelle Gildernew of Sinn Fein are still fresh, meaning all eyes will be on the count centre in Omagh on Friday as the results roll in.
Bolstered by their three seat victory in 2011, Sinn Fein has upped the ante by running four candidates this time around. Ms Gildernew is expected to return to Stormont after a four year absense having topped the poll in 2011 with 19 per cent of the vote.
By running their highest number of candidates to date following a controversial selection convention process, the party’s outgoing MLAs Sean Lynch and Phil Flanagan are also in contention alongside Cllr John Feely.
The SDLP’s candidate Richie McPhillips is under no illusion that he has a fight on his hands if Sinn Fein’s squeeze on his party continues. He is hoping to regain the seat so narrowly lost to Mr Flanagan last time but voter turnout and transfers will prove vital here.
First Minister Arlene Foster is widely tipped to be comfortably re-elected after taking a 14% vote share five years ago. Her bigger challenge will be keeping the DUP as the largest party in the North. The fate of her party colleague Maurice Morrow is less certain.
If the Ulster Unionist Party can maintain the momentum from Tom Elliot’s Westminster result, they could capture a seat from the DUP, possibly at the expense of Lord Morrow.
The UUP’s Alastair Patterson was co-opted in January but in the battle to retain his seat he faces stiff competition from his running mate Cllr Rosemary Barton.
Other candidates running in the constituency include the TUV’s Donald Crawford who is hoping to increase the vote of his predecessor Alex Elliott who took a 2.6% vote share in 2011.
The Green Party’s choice is long-standing member Tanya Jones, who ran in last year’s Westminster elections and secured 788 votes.
The Alliance Party has fielded North Down woman Kerri Blyberg who is hoping to build on the party’s vote following last year’s Westminster elections.
Roslea native and Labour activist Damien Harris was one of the last candidates to throw his hat into the ring and is standing as an independent under ‘The Northern Ireland Labour Representation Committee’.
Elections in this constituency have been too close to call in recent years and with two extra candidates on the ticket this time around, 2016 looks set to be no different.