- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 8, 2007

1:11 p.m.

BELFAST (AP) — Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams was re-elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly as Sinn Fein appeared on course to remain the major Catholic-backed party in the British territory, according to results today.

Mr. Adams, 58, topped the voting in his longtime power base of Catholic west Belfast. He was among the first declared winners for the 108-member assembly after yesterday’s election to find out which Protestant and Catholic parties will control the assembly and hold the key to revived power-sharing in the territory.

Sinn Fein activists cheered wildly in the major ballot-counting center, the King’s Hall conference center in south Belfast, as Mr. Adams took the winner’s podium. Nearby activists from Protestant parties booed or stood stony-faced.

The vote-counting is likely to take two days before all winners are declared. Northern Ireland’s complex system of proportional representation allows voters to pick candidates in order of preference, requiring ballots to be counted several times.

At stake is achieving the central dream of the Good Friday peace accord of 1998: an administration drawn equally from the British Protestant majority and Irish Catholic minority that can govern Northern Ireland in stability and a spirit of compromise.

A moderate-led coalition collapsed in 2002 and hard-liners triumphed in the last assembly elections in 2003, making power-sharing harder to revive.

Political analysts and opinion polls universally forecast that yesterday’s vote will reinforce the strength of the two hard-line parties — the Protestants of the Democratic Unionists and the Catholics of Sinn Fein — versus their moderate rivals.

This outcome would allow Democratic Unionist leader Ian Paisley to claim the top power-sharing post of “first minister,” while Sinn Fein deputy leader Martin McGuinness would be his party’s candidate for “deputy first minister,” a position with equal powers despite its title.

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