Election stresses Unionist splits

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The Independent Online
A RICH and varied mixture of candidates will contest this month's elections to a new Belfast assembly, ranging from IRA icons to stalwart Orangemen still battling against the Good Friday agreement.

The Rev Ian Paisley, for example, will be competing for votes against his own son - also called Ian - Patricia Campbell, a Catholic Ulster Unionist, and Joe Cahill, a republican veteran once sentenced to death for the murder of a policeman during the Second World War.

Also, because the election is being held under proportional representation, which provides six winners in each constituency, all of them could be elected for the North Antrim constituency.

The nationalist side is politically neat and tidy, with a straight fight being waged between John Hume's SDLP and Gerry Adams's Sinn Fein. The main question here is whether the republicans will continue to increase their vote, as they have done in recent years.

But on the Unionist side, the picture is one of fragmentation, with at least six different shades of candidates entering the fray.

By far the largest bloc is David Trimble's Ulster Unionist party, which has nominated 48 runners. But while most of these are loyal to the Trimble line, six or perhaps eight candidates are regarded as opponents of the Good Friday agreement.

This raises the question of whether the UUP leader will be able to rely on these candidates, should they reach the assembly.

A second complication comes from at least four UUP members who, without regard to the party's selection procedures, are standing for the assembly as individuals.

The most prominent of these is Denis Watson, who is running against Mr Trimble himself in the Upper Bann constituency.