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Upper Bann: DUP's Carla Lockhart tops the poll

By Cate McCurry

The political landscape of Upper Bann could see a dramatic change as three nationalists look set to claim their seats in this predominately unionist area.

The vote counting for this constituency, which takes its name from a river, remained stagnant as the battle for seats continues into its second day.

Turnout was down slightly to 54.44% compared to the 2011 Northern Ireland Assembly election.

Surprisingly, the DUP's golden girl Carla Lockhart topped the poll with 7,993 votes, well over the 6,527 quota. In 2011 it was Education Minister and Sinn Fein MLA, John O'Dowd who came out on top.

The 31-year-old, who hails from Co Tyrone, said she was overwhelmed by the result.

Donning a purple dress and nude court shoes, the married woman was hoisted on to family member's shoulders with a Union flag draped around her for the celebrations.

"I eat, sleep and breathe politics," she said.

 "I started nine years ago and was co-opted onto Craigavon Borough Council for three years and then faced my first election and was elected to represent Lurgan.

"The next election I faced was 2013 and I topped the votes there too and today certainly has been my high point for me. It was a shock and a surprise to top the poll. I am overwhelmed and humbled by the support the people of Upper Bann has given me.

"I certainly will be their servant at Stormont and I will represent them to the best of my ability.

"I am very much part of Arlene's team - she has a great vision for Northern Ireland.  My family always had an interest in politics and I was standing on the gate at election time with my dad from when I was five. It's in the blood."

Her party colleague, Sydney Anderson was re-elected on the second round of counting. 

It appears that UUP MLA Jo-Anne Dobson will reclaim her seat, after she polled 5,155 first preference votes however doubt has been cast over party colleagues, Doug Beattie and Kyle Savage.

Doug, who polled 2,969 votes, was not present at the count after the sudden death of his 15-month-old grandson,  Cameron. He described the toddler as a "beautiful young lad who had  a huge personality" and appealed for donations to be made to the Children's Heartbeat Trust.

The biggest battle for power remains between Sinn Fein candidates, O'Dowd and Catherine Seeley and veteran, Dolores Kelly of the SDLP. 

Mrs Kelly, who polled 4,335 votes admits she has a tough battle on her hands but insists she can retain her seat.

Despite it being Ms Seeley's first fight in the Assembly elections she sailed through to secure a seat with 6,164 votes, just shy of the quota while her party colleague, Mr O'Dowd polled 5,209 votes.

The Education Minister certainly suffered a dent to his votes after topping the poll in the last election.

Banbridge count centre was filled with few victorious candidates by the end of the day with most preparing for Saturday's round of elections and eliminations.

The battle lines have been drawn and the long fight continues.

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