Jim Wells hit out at Sinn Fein for calling an expensive election “contrived to get rid of Arlene Foster” as he retained his seat behind the two Sinn Fein candidates.
The long-serving DUP MLA polled well in third place with 7,786 (15.7%) which was up on last year’s total of 5,033 (12.3%).
He said Mrs Foster “will remain as our leader” and said he was happy that all of the party’s “big hitters” had been re-elected.
Asked if he could make a return as health minister, he said: “Jim Wells had to step aside as health minister because he was framed.
“I would love to come back as health minister but I don’t know if that is going to be possible.”
Mr Wells said he was determined to see a total of four people before the courts he claims made false allegations against him.
Sinn Fein got an early boost with both candidates - Sinead Ennis and Chris Hazzard - elected on the first count with 10,256 and 8,827 votes respectively.
Poll topper Sinead Ennis said her party had campaigned hard and the result “should not come as a shock”.
Next to be elected was the SDLP’s Sinead Bradley who polled 7,323 first preference votes and was the main beneficiary of the Sinn Fein transfers.
Ms Bradley was unable to attend the count centre as she was attending her father’s funeral. PJ Bradley served as a SDLP MLA for the constituency from 1998 until 2011 with his daughter following in her father’s footsteps. He passed away earlier this week.
Defeated Ulster Unionist candidate Harold McKee said he was disappointed to have lost out so soon after receiving his first mandate last year.
The final seat was won by Colin McGrath of the SDLP.