Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

  • Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution
  • When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Mike Nesbitt elected new Ulster Unionist leader by 80% margin

Saturday evening former Ulster Television anchor Mike Nesbitt was elected the new Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader over farmer John McCallister by a margin of 407 votes out of a total of 665: 536 to 129. That computes to roughly 80 percent to 20 percent, a larger margin than most had predicted. Nesbitt had neutralized his opponent's call for the party to go into opposition by calling for a committee to investigate the issue to be chaired by McCallister.  But the real thing that Nesbitt had going for himself was name recognition--probably the most crucial factor in politics. As a former news anchor/presenter he was well known to party members where McCallister was not, particularly east of the Bann River. Nesbitt's first challenge will be to stop the rot by deciding on a clear course of action for the party and an identity that the party has lacked since the rival Democratic Unionists stole the UUP's policies in 2006.

In the two-week leadership campaign he emphasized repair to the party rather than alliances with other political parties whether the Conservatives or the Democratic Unionists.  He will have to soon implement this before a skeptical media decides that the honeymoon period is over and starts sniping at him.   This means that he will have to avoid the type of "own goal" errors that his predecessor, Tom Elliott, made. As a media-savvy person Nesbitt should not find this too difficult.

Of some 2,000 party members eligible to vote in the election, which was held at the Ramada Hotel in Belfast during the party's annual general meeting, only 665--or less than a third--ended up attending the meeting and voting. This is a significant drop since the last election in 2010 when Elliott was elected with 939 votes cast. It may mean that the party's base is starting to abandon the party--either for other parties or simply joining the  ranks of the apathetic middle class in the province. This will have to be reversed if the party is to have a future.

There are two obstacles to the opposition option. First, there is no allowance in the Good Friday Agreement for a political opposition and hence no funding. Second, the UUP's natural partner in the opposition, the nationalist SDLP, is opposed to the opposition option. Before opposition can be seriously contemplated answers to both these problems must be found.

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