Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein is on course to win the most seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly after securing 29% of the first preference votes in Thursday’s election.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) received 21.3%, a drop of 7% from their 2017 vote share.
The centrist Alliance Party and the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) also saw an increase in their votes.
The number of exact seats won by each party will be clearer when the second preference votes are counted and transfers are totaled.
With the historic win, Sinn Fein, once regarded as the political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), will for the first time have the opportunity to nominate its leader Michelle O’Neill as the First Minister in the power-sharing local government of Northern Ireland.
The DUP, which acted as a de-facto coalition partner of the first Tory government under Boris Johnson and offered him endless support during Brexit, is now the second party in Belfast for the first time in history.
Due to the special legislation under the 1998 Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, nationalists or unionists cannot form a government if the other party does not nominate a first minister and deputy first minister.
The DUP, therefore, will need to nominate its leader as the deputy first minister in order to form such a government.
However, the previous devolved government had collapsed when the DUP leader and then-First Minister Jeffrey Donaldson resigned upon demands to alter the Northern Ireland Protocol, which aligns the country with the EU.
The unionists and the central UK government have insisted on changes to the protocol to abolish the customs barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
Sinn Fein is a nationalist party that defends the unity of Northern Ireland and Ireland.
The Good Friday Agreement allows for referenda on unity on both sides of the border under the right conditions.
Sinn Fein leaders have previously said preparations for such votes must start soon and the party included plans for such an exercise in its manifesto.