Will you know who you’re voting for in May 2011?

Looks like there could be an(other) opportunity for parties to play candidate/co-option games in the Assembly and local government elections in May 2011.

With at least two elections being held on the same day (never mind the strong chance of a voting reform referendum) some politicians may be fighting to retain several different jobs. Now double-jobbing has really only been addressed at an MP/MLA and MP/Council level, but a surprising number of MLAs have so far seemed happy to retain their council seats.

For some newly co-opted MLAs, standing down from council may seem premature. Better to stand for both the Assembly and Council rather than putting their eggs in one basket and losing all political office altogether. Not to mention the raft of long-standing MLAs who have so far retained their council seats

Co-option was already the method for replacing “casual vacancies” in the Assembly. The Electoral Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1962 (Amendment) Order 2010 has brought in the same process for vacated Council seats (with the overwhelming support of local parties).

What’s to stop a big name politician – perhaps an MP or a high profile MLA – being asked by their party to stand for council, easily winning the seat given their public profile, and then quickly resigning and handing the seat to a lesser-known party colleague?

Same could be true for the Assembly. There’s nothing to stop an MP who is currently double jobbing (for example, Alasdair McDonnell or Sammy Wilson) standing as an MLA, winning a seat, and then “doing the decent thing” and standing down from the Assembly within week, co-opting someone else into their place. Not that either of those examples is likely to stand down …

I’d be surprised if some parties, or some politicians, didn’t use this technique to boost their performance in May 2011 and beyond. Particularly if the hype around which tribe claims the First Minister sheriff badge continues. And perhaps also as a spoiling tactic between competing unionist or nationalist parties vying for seats in a tight constituency.

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