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Sinn Fein won the most votes in Northern Ireland’s regional elections last week, a victory that marks the first time the British-controlled territory will see an Irish nationalist as its leader, CNN reported.
Results tallied over the weekend showed that Sinn Fein secured 27 seats in the 90-seat parliament, while its main opponent the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) won 25 seats. Meanwhile, the centrist Alliance Party saw a surge in support, claiming 17 seats.
The victory marks a historic milestone for the Irish nationalist party, which had long been linked to the Irish Republican Army (IRA) that fought a bloody three-decade campaign to end British rule and unite the territory with Ireland, the Associated Press noted.
Sinn Fein will be entitled to the post of first minister in Northern Ireland, a first for an Irish nationalist party since the territory was founded as a Protestant-majority state in 1921.
Although advocating for union with Ireland, the party’s campaign focused on social issues and the rising cost of living.
Party officials hailed the victory as a “new era” with Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald hinting that plans for any unity referendum would come in the next five years. A referendum on Irish unification could happen if a majority of voters would back it, according to a clause in the 1998 Good Friday Agreements that ended the conflict in Northern Ireland.
Sinn Fein’s win also underscores decreasing support for unionist parties but raises questions about the future of Northern Ireland’s complicated power-sharing politics and ongoing issues over post-Brexit arrangements.
Even so, British officials are planning to meet Northern Irish parties to urge them to form a government. The United States also urged leaders to “take the necessary steps to re-establish a power-sharing executive.”