Sitting DUP MLA Stephen Moutray has bowed out of next year’s election race and the party has selected rising star Carla Lockhart to stand in Upper Bann.
An MLA since 2007, Mr Moutray cited business interests and family commitments in explaining his decision to quit front-line politics.
His announcement came hot on the heels of news that the DUP’s Ms Lockhart had gained more than half the votes from the delegates at a selection meeting in Gilford Orange Hall recently.
It guaranteed her place on the ballot sheets in May and gave rise to speculation as to whether the party would field two candidates - so dropping either Mr Moutray or fellow DUP incumbent Sydney Anderson - or three, despite the likelihood that only two would make it to the Assembly.
Announcing his decision to stand down, Mr Moutray said: “Over the last number of months I have been involved in a number of new projects within my business and, following discussions with my family and with party colleagues, I have decided to leave the Assembly at the end of this mandate in order to pursue my business interests as well as dedicate more time to family life.
“I have conveyed my decision to the party officers and asked them not to consider me as a potential candidate during the ongoing selection process for the Upper Bann constituency.”
Mr Moutray said he would remain active in the party at constituency level in the forthcoming election campaign and would continue to serve the party in a part - time capacity “in whatever opportunities may arise”.
He added: “I want to take this opportunity to thank all those who have voted for me and had me returned successfully on three occasions.
“It has been both a privilege and humbling experience for which I am truly thankful.”
In the last Assembly election in 2011 Mr Anderson polled 5,854 first-preference votes, Mr Moutray, 5,645, each making it on early counts.
In the previous two polls (2007 and 2003) Mr Moutray and David Simpson were elected with three DUP candidates in the fray.
Mr Anderson was co-opted to replace Mr Simpson when he decided to focus on Westminster in 2010.
Ms Lockhart, meanwhile, earned her spurs in last year’s Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council poll, when she was the only Lurgan candidate to make it on the first count (2,013 votes, comfortably above the 1,438 quota).
It has also emerged the UUP are fielding three candidates – former Royal Irish captain Doug Beattie, who sailed in as a councillor for Portadown in last year’s ABC poll, Jo-Anne Dobson MLA, who made the Assembly last time, and the last mayor of Craigavon, Colin McCusker.
Sam Gardiner MLA, the UUP’s first choice last time and the oldest MLA in the Assembly, will not be standing.
Education Minister John O’Dowd MLA has been chosen for Sinn Fein, as has Catherine Seeley, deputy lord mayor of Armagh, and Dolores Kelly, deposed deputy leader of the SDLP, is her party’s choice. ABC councillor David Jones will be UKIP’s candidate.
The six sitting Upper Bann MLAs are John O’Dowd (SF), Sydney Anderson and Stephen Moutray (DUP), Jo-Anne Dobson and Sam Gardiner (UUP) and Dolores Kelly (SDLP).