Senior members of the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party backed deputy party leader Peter Robinson yesterday to succeed Ian Paisley as leader of Northern Ireland's biggest political party.
The nomination puts him on track to become the province's first minister when Paisley steps down in May. Nigel Dodds, who like Robinson is a member of the UK parliament in London, is set to take over as deputy DUP leader.
"This joint nomination was unanimously agreed and will now be taken forward for ratification to the party's central executive committee on Thursday," the 36 DUP members of Northern Ireland's 108-seat regional assembly said in a statement.
Paisley, 82, said last month he would step down as party leader and first minister in May - a year after the firebrand Protestant cleric set aside decades of hatred of Catholic foes and agreed to share power with them in the assembly.
The agreement helped cement political stability following a 1998 peace deal that largely ended three decades of violence between majority Protestants who favour British sovereignty in the province and Catholics who mostly want a united Ireland.
Over 3,600 people were killed during the conflict.
Robinson's style is expected to be less jocular than that displayed by Paisley over the last year and he is unlikely to appear so at ease in the company of deputy first minister Martin McGuinness - a member of the Irish nationalist Sinn Fein party and former Irish Republican Army commander.
Despite the differences in style, Robinson is a close ally of Paisley and worked closely with him to bring about last year's power-sharing deal, meaning that most see his appointment as a sign of stability that should underpin the agreement.