Sinn Fein looks set to be the big winner from Northern Ireland’s snap election, giving the Irish nationalist party an enhanced mandate in the new assembly and increasing the prospect of tough negotiations ahead on forming a new executive.

Early results on Friday showed that the sharp rise in turnout – up 10 percentage points to 65 per cent from the last election 10 months ago – would benefit Sinn Fein, which is set to close the gap on the Democratic Unionist party in the race to be the biggest party in the new assembly.

The leader of the biggest party automatically becomes first minister under Northern Ireland’s devolution settlement.

Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, topped the poll in her constituency of Fermanagh but failed to get elected on the first count.

The big losers from the vote look likely to be parties of the centre, including the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP.

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