Just over a month after the DUP last met to confirm Edwin Poots as its leader, the party executive gathered last night to formally ratify Sir Jeffrey Donaldson as his replacement.
The meeting was late, but assuming all went to plan, it makes the Lagan Valley MP the party’s fifth leader in its 50-year history, and its third in just 50 days.
When asked whether he was backing Sir Jeffrey as he arrived at the La Mon Hotel in Belfast on a sunny Wednesday evening, Mr Poots said “absolutely”.
The hotel has been the setting for some of the party’s biggest moments, and the mood was jovial as politicians gathered for the AGM.
Sir Jeffrey was not seen entering the Ballygowan Suite entrance of the hotel for the meeting of the party’s 130-strong Executive, consisting of Assembly Members, MPs and peers, as well as representatives from the constituency associations.
Anti-abortion protesters gathered outside the entrance to the grounds as Lord Dodds and former Education Minister Peter Weir were among the first to arrive.
Those gathering looked relaxed.
Deputy leader Paula Bradley did not speak to reporters on arrival.
DUP chairman Lord Morrow arrived with his political adviser Timothy Johnston.
They were followed by East Antrim MLA Gordon Lyons, whose new position as Agriculture Minister could be up for grabs in any reshuffle by the new leader.
First Minister — for the time being — Paul Givan remarked that it was a “beautiful day” as he made his way into the meeting.
The gathering to ratify Mr Poots took place 34 days ago at a different venue, the Crowne Plaza Belfast, where he and his Ms Bradley, who remains in place as deputy leader under Sir Jeffrey, were the last to arrive, and greeted well-wishers before entering together.
But division had been evident.
Before Mr Poots could give his victory speech, several high-profile party members, including Arlene Foster, Mr Donaldson and Diane Dodds, walked out of the room.
A vote over whether to hold the ratification by secret ballot was later defeated by 56 to 47, and Mr Poots was duly confirmed by 72 to 28 votes.
In his speech Mr Poots appealed for unionist unity and pledged to rebuild “our party, unionism and our great wee country”.
Speaking after his recent election, Mr Donaldson had a similar message, and said that his priority as leader “will be to right the wrong that has been done by the imposition of this protocol”.
He has made it clear he wants to lead the party from Belfast, and will have to leave Westminster to return to Stormont — likely through co-option — if he wants to take his place as First Minister, a move that would force Mr Givan out.
There may have been no obvious drama at the La Mon Hotel, but there’s every chance the DUP’s internal politics remain fragile.