Pressure for a unionist pact in time for next year's Assembly election is set to intensify, the defeated south Belfast DUP candidate Jimmy Spratt claimed today.
The SDLP's Alasdair McDonnell regained the seat with a comfortable majority after Sinn Fein's Alex Maskey withdrew, and he still had a few votes to spare over the combined unionist total which included almost 6,000 for the Conservative and Ulster Unionist Paula Bradshaw.
The two unionist parties were unable to reach agreement on a single candidate and Mr McDonnell's victory was never in any doubt.
But with party leaders Peter Robinson and Sir Reg Empey the two big unionist casualties elsewhere, Mr Spratt, a south Belfast MLA, said new talks would have to start to hammer out an electoral pact before the next Stormont poll.
He said: "It doesn't mean there is anything sectarian in it (the arrangement).
"It is a myth which should be rightly dispelled. One of the issues continually raised on the doorsteps was the matter of unionist unity and after this election... unionist parties will continue to talk to each other, and rightly so."
Mr McDonnell said his win was a result of years of hard work in the constituency, particularly over the last five years. He said he did not believe that he had benefited from any Sinn Fein support.
He declared: "People have votes, not the parties. Parties don't deliver votes and I don't think Sinn Fein offered any advice. I don't their people took any advice and I know there was a low turnout in areas where Sinn Fein were expected to have influence.
"I don't think there was any benefit to me. I had a very comfortable majority. I had more votes than the two unionist candidates combined."