The nominations for the 2019 local government election are in and a total of 819 candidates are running for 462 council seats across eleven different council areas – a decrease from the 893 candidates who sought election in 2014.
The DUP was the largest party in 2014 and this remains but the total number of candidates they are running has decreased, from 189 to 172.
There has been a slight increase in the number of candidates that Sinn Féin are running this time around, increasing from 142 to 156, indicating that they think they can win more seats in more councils than they did five years ago.
The Ulster Unionists are running the same number of candidates as 2014, but the SDLP are running 27% fewer candidates than last time out, suggesting that they are attempting to consolidate support where they have it and are not going to be pushing for additional seats.
Alliance are running two more candidates than in 2014, but are running fewer candidates in places where they have seats and more candidates in places where they haven’t stood before, such as Derry and Strabane where they are running three additional candidates this time out.
For the smaller parties there has been a significant drop off in the number of TUV, PUP and UKIP candidates, whereas the Greens are running significantly more candidates. There is also an 18% increase in the number of Independents running.
Aontú will be contesting their first election, which will be quickly followed by the local government election in the south on 24th May, so it will be interesting to see how they fare. They are running 16 candidates across 7 councils with candidates from a wide range of backgrounds, including a number of former Sinn Féin and SDLP members. It is always difficult for new parties to succeed first time out but, if Aontú do poll better than expected, it will be interesting to see whether they can win any seats and where their votes come from. For a more detailed look at Aotnú’s chances have a look at Chris Donnelly’s piece.
It is also interesting to note the breakdown of candidates in terms of gender. Back in 2014 only 26% of candidates were female and there were marked differences across the five main parties, with the SDLP running the highest proportion of females at 34% whilst only 14% of Ulster Unionist candidates were female.
This time round the number of female candidates has increased slightly – to 29% – with most parties increasing the number of female candidates, with the exception of the DUP who are fielding fewer female candidates this time around.
So far in the south, which is having its local government election three weeks after us on 26th May, they have seen the number of women running increase by 25%, compared with the number who ran in 2014. In 2014 there were 354 female candidates but this year the number has increased to 441, so 31% of all candidates this year are female.
We clearly have a long way to go to ensure that the people that run in elections look more like the people who vote for them, and whilst a 5% increase in female candidates should be applauded it should be taken as part of a wider conversation about how we support and encourage more women to run for elected office.
Niall Kelly is a former Belfast City Councillor who has worked on various political campaigns during the past 15 years. He has an interest in politics and data, and how they interact with each other. Follow at @nkbelfast