In recent years, pretty much since 2001 in fact, the results of general elections have been fairly predictable in Northern Ireland. The DUP and Sinn Féin dominate with the SDLP maintaining its seats in its strongholds (with the surprise addition of South Belfast in 2005) and the UUP playing second-fiddle in the unionist camp (quite spectacularly in 2005).
A year ago, it would have been fair to predict that the status quo would be maintained in the next election, but since then things have changed considerably, particularly in the unionist camp. With the DUP going into government with Sinn Féin, a considerable flank of their position has been left open to attack from traditionalists such as Jim Allister. At one point there was talk of the DUP running two candidates in the European elections, but thanks to the TUV they came in under quota to take their third seat with a sole candidate.
Meanwhile, the Ulster Unionists have resurrected their link with a resurgent Tory party. While the story of the European election was the problems faced by the DUP rather than the UUP/ Conservatives maintaining Jim Nicholson's position, the next general election will be a much bigger experiment by the 'New Force'.
In recent weeks the DUP has made several suggestions about unionist pacts in South Belfast and Fermanagh/ South Tyrone. However, with the Ulster Unionists arguing that the DUP has no right to be bargaining on these constituencies given that it has never held either seat, and with intra-unionist bad blood apparently still as toxic as ever, it appears that no deal is on the horizon.
Elsewhere, Jim Allister has indicated that he will run in North Antrim, seeking to take a seat held by the DUP since 1970. Will Ian Paisley run again, or will his son or perhaps Education Committee Chair Mervyn Storey fancy a shot at it?
Within nationalism, a soon-to-be-retired SDLP leader Mark Durkan will be seeking to cement his place as the Foyle MP, and South Down stalwart Eddie McGrady is running again. Alasdair McDonnell will hope that a continued unionist split and the benefits of incumbency will see him home again in South Belfast. Elsewhere, Sinn Féin will be aiming for business as usual.
Regardless of the results, the run up to the forthcoming general election alone will be intriguing. How things pan out as the ballot papers are counted will be another issue entirely.