Belfast Telegraph

DUP and SF set to win two-thirds of seats, says expert

By Michael McHugh

The DUP and Sinn Fein should win around two-thirds of the seats following the Assembly election, a political strategist predicted.

Any official Opposition formed will not have the numbers to "bite" the largest parties, Stratagem NI director Quintin Oliver said.

He claimed quality scrutiny would be required to make up the shortfall in the lobbies at Stormont, but said only smaller party leaders like the Greens' Steven Agnew and the Traditional Unionist Voice's Jim Allister had made real progress during the last mandate.

He said: "People have said it is not a democracy unless you have an Opposition, but will it have any bite? The numbers don't give it bite, so it requires quality scrutiny and exposure, and apart from Jim Allister and Steven Agnew, we have seen very little of it."

Plans to create an official Opposition were contained in a recent Stormont political agreement brokered by the British and Irish governments to break a logjam over IRA activity and welfare spending that threatened to bring down the divided administration.

The Ulster Unionists and the SDLP are expected to trail the DUP and Sinn Fein after the votes are counted. The UUP walked out of the mandatory coalition last year over IRA activity. Negotiations on a Programme for Government could prove pivotal to whether the smaller parties join a power-sharing coalition after the election.

Mr Oliver ran the Yes campaign during the 1998 Good Friday Agreement referendum.

He now heads Stratagem NI, which provides political consultancy services in Belfast and is a keen observer of goings-on at Stormont. Mr Oliver said Sinn Fein and the DUP would be happy to push the Ulster Unionists and SDLP towards Opposition while forming a 2.5 party coalition including Alliance.

He added: "The DUP and Sinn Fein will tend to monopolise it and may actually hope the smaller parties go out of government.

"After the constant wrangling, they might try and nudge the UUP and SDLP into Opposition knowing that they will win no votes."

He predicted the larger parties would win 66-68 seats, giving them a two-thirds majority, with up to 40 Members in Opposition.

Belfast Telegraph


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