Peter Robinson, DUP
After the disaster of losing his House of Commons seat last year to Alliance deputy leader Naomi Long, the DUP leader appeared set to top the poll in East Belfast.
While there was no official announcement, the First Minister and his team appeared confident that tallies would show Mr Robinson has gained a boost, following the controversy surrounding his wife Iris, the former Strangford MP. But the Robinson strategy appeared to have made gains for the party in several parts of Northern Ireland last night.
Anna Lo, Alliance
The incumbent MLA was first home in south Belfast last night, news of her poll-topping performance leaking out even before any official announcement.
'I got votes from all sections of our community and all parts of South Belfast - it shows there is a lot of common ground,' she said. As a relative newcomer, Ms Lo was fourth in the pecking order in the constituency in the 2007 Assembly election coming in after the DUP's Jimmy Spratt, Alasdair McDonnell of the SDLP and Sinn Fein veteran Alex Maskey. Born in Hong Kong but having live in Northern Ireland since 1974, she is now part of the Alliance bounce started by Naomi Long in the east of the city last year.
Following a career break to have her two sons, she joined the Chinese Welfare Association in 1987 as a community interpreter. Four years later she returned to full-time education and qualified as a social worker from the University of Ulster in 1993 and worked in the health and social services trust and Barnardos.
David McClarty, independent
The sitting Assembly member attacked as a 'spent force' by senior members of his own former Ulster Unionist party bounced back as an independent.
The Coleraine insurance broker, a deputy speaker in the last Assembly, trounced his replacements as UU standard bearer, Leslie Macauley and David Harding with more than double their separate votes on the first count.
McClarty's de-selection may have been a bad call for the UUP - but not as embarrassing as the phone call made by the UU local association chairman Norman Hillis to Mr Harding earlier this year in which McClarty was described as “'toast'.
Conor Murphy (right), Sinn Fein
Five months ago few would have put Conor Murphy forward as Northern Ireland’s most popular Executive Minister...
That was during the Christmas and New Year freeze 'n' thaw crisis when the Regional Development Minister and town halls were in dispute over who should be clearing the footpaths.
But Mr Murphy was first among his Executive colleagues to be returned to the next Assembly, in Newry and Armagh - where he topped the poll - followed about an hour later by DUP Environment Minister Edwin Poots on the first count in Lagan Valley. More to do with timing than performance, perhaps.
Kieran McCarthy, Alliance
The Strangford MLA dropped a sly hint he might be interested in becoming health minister after getting his Assembly seat back on the first count.
But it is only two Assembly elections ago that Mr McCarthy's electoral health was in some doubt when he was the last candidate to gain a seat, narrowly forcing out the SDLP's Joe Boyle in 2003.
'I have been Alliance health spokesperson and the health ministry might be of interest,' he said last night. That will of course depend on Alliance gaining enough seats to claim a Ministry - and then up to leader David Ford to decide which one to take and who to put in.
The Ulster Unionist Party
Several Ulster Unionist candidates were struggling for their seats last night after a lack-lustre election performance.
Only Basil McCrea in Lagan Valley, romping home on the first count with more than 5, 500 votes, appeared to be bucking the trend.
Elsewhere veteran party figures such as former Assembly chief whip David McNarry in Strangford and his successor Fred Cobain in north Belfast were facing question-marks over their likely re-election. And, as widely predicted, there was also a questionmark over whether the party Assembly deputy leader, John McCallister, would survive in south Down.
But newcomers like former broadcaster Mike Nesbitt, also Strangford, and Colin McCusker - son of the former MP Harold McCusker - in Upper Bann, also had worse first preference vote results than had been anticipated. Leslie Macauley - who quit the East Londonderry count earlier after being eliminated on the second count.
Leader Tom Elliott insisted it was too early to describe the election as a serious setback, and there was no sign of any immediate calls for Mr Elliott - voted in as leader over Mr McCrea last September - to consider his position.
Harry Hamilton, Alliance
For Freddie Mercury impersonator Harry Hamilton in Upper Bann it was a case of one of Queen’s greatest hits - Another One Bites the Dust.
Since he 'broke free' from the Ulster Unionist Party, 'Flash' Harry had been one of Alliance's 'Breakthru' hopefuls.
Hamilton was denounced by UU chairman David Campbell as a 'flash in the pan' when he defected from the UUP after bagging 10,629 as the party's candidate in last years Westminster election.
In electoral terms it seemed he had a Kind of Magic , but yesterday on the first count he polled just 1, 979 wearing his Alliance colours, dependent on high levels of transfers to be within any chance of an Assembly seat.
Eamon McCann, People Before Profit
The former civil rights leader and long-time left wing activist did well in the first count in Foyle - but not well enough.
He may have had the backing of singer and veteran campaigner Christy Moore, but McCann only had the first preference support of 3,120 voters, leaving him more than 2,300 short of the quota.
McCann had appeared to be within shouting distance of an Assembly seat and the best hope of the People Before Profit organisation but may now have to do with the Amnesty Media award for which he has been nominated for his journalistic work on Bloody Sunday and the Saville inquiry.
Dawn Purvis, independent
The former Progressive Unionist Party leader, who resigned last year over the party's links with the UVF following the broad daylight murder of Bobby Moffatt on the Shankill Road, appeared to have lost her East Belfast seat last night.
It was a genuine shock on a long day with few surprises. Her team were concerned that the UUP's Michael Copeland was so far ahead on the first indications of first preferences that Ms Purvis - whose posters appeared to have become collectors items after disappearing from lamposts in recent days - would not be able to catch him up.
British National Party
In its first attempt to gain Assembly seats, and its debut in NI politics, the controversial BNP appeared to have had a resounding rejection in Northern Ireland on the face of initial results yesterday.
In South Antrim, its standard bearer Stephen Parkes (left) brought up the rear in the distribution of first count preferences with just 404 votes but the party - which only registered as a party in Northern Ireland earlier this year - may content itself with having dabbled its toes in the cauldron of Ulster politics.
As counting stopped across Northern Ireland last night, the DUP and Sinn Fein had 32 seats - the DUP 18 and Sinn Fein 14 - while the UUP and SDLP had only six - three apiece with the Alliance Party picking up three.
>>Click More Pictures to launch gallery
While the full picture will not emerge until later today, there have already been some clear winners and losers...