By David Young, PA
DUP MPs and Assembly members are set to formally endorse Jeffrey Donaldson as their new leader later.
The party’s 36-strong electoral college is meeting in a Co Antrim hotel to rubber stamp the Lagan Valley MP’s ascent to the top job.
The gathering comes after a chaotic two months for Northern Ireland largest party.
Internal divisions have been laid bare after successive revolts deposed former leader Arlene Foster and her successor Edwin Poots.
Mr Donaldson, the party’s 58-year-old Westminster leader, was the only candidate to put his name forward for the party leadership after the dramatic resignation of Mr Poots last week.
Mr Poots’ demise came only weeks after he narrowly defeated Mr Donaldson in the leadership contest to succeed Mrs Foster.
Once he receives the endorsement of the electoral college, which is made up of 28 MLAs and eight MPs, Sir Jeffrey will become leader designate.
He will become the official party leader next week when the DUP’s ruling executive meets to ratify his appointment.
Mr Poots’ resignation came after he pressed ahead with reconstituting Stormont’s powersharing Executive alongside Sinn Féin, despite a significant majority of his MPs and MLAs being vociferously opposed to the move.
Party anger at a UK government pledge to grant Sinn Féin a key concession on Irish language laws was behind the internal opposition to Mr Poots’ decision to nominate a First Minister to lead the administration alongside the republican party.
Serious question marks now hang over the future of First Minister Paul Givan.
Mr Donaldson has made clear his intent to return from Westminster to assume the First Minister’s job.
However, the timeline for that move remains unclear.
He would have to trigger a parliamentary by-election in Lagan Valley in order to re-enter the Assembly and it is unclear whether he would want to prompt such a contest in the near future, given the DUP’s recent poor poll ratings.