ARLENE Foster has urged those who vote for her in the Fermanagh council by-election to transfer their second preference vote to the Ulster Unionist candidate, Basil Johnston.
Though the UUP has said she was only catching-up with their party on the issue of cooperation and queried her haste to get the proposal into the Press.
The DUP woman has said the call is a gesture of unionist unity, despite bad feeling between the rival unionist parties, after the UUP forced the vote by refusing to accept the cooption of a DUP member onto council, to replace Councillor Joe Dodds, who died earlier this year.
Mrs Foster said: "The unionist community in Enniskillen is crying out for unity at this time. They do not want to see Joe Dodds' seat falling to a republican.
"We must ensure maximum vote transfer between the candidate for the Ulster Unionist Party, and I as candidate for the other. To ensure this is the case, I have instructed my election agent that my mock ballot papers, for distribution on election day outside polling stations, clearly indicate a desire for my voters to vote 'Johnston 2'."
The poll, next month, also includes Sinn Fein, SDLP and Alliance candidates.
Ulster Unionist MLA for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Tom Elliott responded: "It is unusual that our candidate received a letter from Arlene Foster one day and it appears in the Press on the same day.
"We thought that with a matter of this importance it would have been useful – and common courtesy – to have had a direct discussion between the candidates before involving the Press. This, however, may be the way Mrs Foster operates."
He added: "We agree with the sentiments contained within the letter, namely that cooperation between unionist candidates in the forthcoming by-election with regards transfers will help increase turnout and improve the chances of a unionist being returned.
"But as Mrs Foster will recall from her time in the UUP this level of cooperation has always been promoted by our party and carried out as a means by which Ulster Unionists strive to secure maximum unionist representation, even when other unionist parties refused to recommend to their supporters to reciprocate."