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Counting to begin in Northern Ireland following Stormont election

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ounting is set to start later following fresh elections to the Stormont Assembly.

The first of the 90 MLAs are expected to be returned by Friday afternoon, and the counts are likely to continue into the Saturday.

Some 239 candidates are running across 18 five-seater constituencies.

An indicative voter turn out of around 54% was given by the Electoral Office of Northern Ireland at 9pm on Thursday.

They said the figure was based on the average of returns from polling stations, which remained open until 10pm.

Democratic Unionist leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson arrives at the polling station at Dromore Central Primary School in Dromore, to cast his vote. (Brian Lawless/PA) / PA Wire

The indicative turn out ranged from 60% in West Belfast to 47% in the South Antrim constituency.

The final figure will not be known until Friday morning.

The turn out at the last Assembly election in 2017 was 64.8%.

The counting of the votes will start at 8am at three centres in Belfast, Jordanstown and Magherafelt.

The DUP and Sinn Fein are vying for the top spot, which comes with the entitlement to nominate the next first minister.

A unionist party has always been the biggest in the Assembly, and previously the Stormont Parliament, since the formation of the state in 1921.

While the office of the first and deputy first minister is an equal one with joint power, the allocation of the titles is regarded as symbolically important.

The Northern Ireland Protocol has cast a long shadow over the election campaign following the resignation of First Minister, Paul Givan, in February in an effort to force the UK government to act over the post-Brexit trading arrangements.

This action left the Executive unable to fully function.

While ministers remained in post, they were restricted in the actions they could take.

Unionists object to the additional checks on goods arriving in Northern Ireland from Great Britain as a border in the Irish Sea.

Northern Ireland uses the single transferable vote (STV) proportional representation electoral system.

The DUP won 28 seats at the last Assembly elections in 2017, just ahead of Sinn Fein which returned 27 MLAs.

Next was the SDLP with 12 seats, the Ulster Unionist Party with 10 seats, Alliance with eight seats, the Green Party with two seats while People Before Profit and the TUV had one MLA each.

This year, the DUP has been regarded as playing it safe, running 30 candidates, while Sinn Fein is running 34.

Meanwhile, the UUP is running 27 candidates, the Alliance Party is running 24, the SDLP is fielding 22, TUV is putting up 19 candidates, the Green Party is running 18 and People Before Profit 12, as is Aontu, while the Workers Party is running six candidates and the PUP three.

The Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) and the Socialist Party are each fielding two candidates, while the Northern Ireland Conservatives, Cross Community Labour Alliance (CCLA), Resume NI and Heritage Party are each running one candidate.

There are 24 independent candidates

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