Edwin Poots has been elected as the new leader of the Democratic Unionist Party.
Stormont Agriculture Minister Mr Poots was vying with the party’s Westminster leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson to replace Arlene Foster, who announced her resignation last month.
The Lagan Valley MLA won by a razor-thin 19 votes to 17 in the poll carried out within the party’s 36-strong electoral college.
It was the first contested leadership vote in the DUP’s 50-year history.
Mr Poots has made clear that he would break with DUP tradition and not appoint himself Stormont First Minister if elected party leader.
Explaining that he wants to focus 100% on the leadership, he is set to appoint a party colleague to the role at the head of the powersharing administration at Stormont.
In his acceptance speech, Mr Poots, who recently underwent cancer surgery, pledged that the DUP would be the “authentic voice” for unionism under his leadership.
“It is an immense honour and pleasure to stand here today in this position, it is not a position that I expected to be in some weeks ago,” he said in an address at party headquarters in east Belfast.
“However, things can change quite radically.”
“I think the opportunities for Northern Ireland are great, the opportunities for us to make Northern Ireland a great place after this 100 years has passed and we move into a new 100 years.”
Mr Poots praised the “resilience” of Northern Ireland people through the first 100 years of its existence.
“It’s that resilience that we are going to go forward (with) and make Northern Ireland a good place,” he said in an address at party headquarters in east Belfast.
“My father was a founder member of the DUP some 50 years ago, and I joined after the death of the Reverend Robert Bradford MP in 1981 and throughout all of that period this party has been the authentic voice of unionism and will continue to be the authentic voice of unionism under my leadership.”
Mrs Foster was ousted after an internal heave by party colleagues unhappy with her leadership and will step down from that role on May 28, and as Stormont First Minister at the end of June.
Mr Poots will be leader designate until Mrs Foster formally stands down. His election will now go to the party executive for ratification.
The DUP politicians eligible to vote comprised the party’s eight MPs and 28 Assembly members.
The voting by way of secret ballot took place at the party headquarters through Friday afternoon.
Ahead of the vote, Sir Jeffrey and Mr Poots made final pitches for support in a virtual hustings event on Friday morning.
Paula Bradley was elected the party’s new deputy leader. She defeated Gregory Campbell by 18 votes to 16.
He said he wanted to tackle the problems within the region’s health service and address the spiralling treatment waiting lists.
The experienced Stormont minister also urged fellow unionists to work with him to oppose Brexit’s contentious Northern Ireland Protocol, which has placed new economic barriers between the region and the rest of the UK.
“There’s much to do, there’s much to be done and I stand here today very proud to be taking up the mantle as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party and that brings with it responsibility to all of unionism,” he said.
“I want to say this very clearly – I will be a leader in unionism who’ll be reaching out to other leaders in unionism. I want to see unionism working together.
“The Northern Ireland Protocol is proving to be a massive challenge for us and if we are to fight this to ensure that everybody in Northern Ireland is not worse off as a consequence of the protocol, then it’s for us to do that together.
“And I want to ensure that that is the case, that we don’t have the unionist bickering that we’ve had in the past, and I will encourage all unionists to work with me to deliver an end which ensures we set the foundations in this (year) 2021 for another 100 years of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom.”