The DUP is not getting the better deal out of the electoral pact with the Ulster Unionists, Mike Nesbitt has said.
UUP leader Mr Nesbitt defended the arrangement in which only a single unionist candidate will stand in four key constituencies in the Westminster election in May.
The pact involves the DUP’s Gavin Robinson being given a free run in East Belfast and the party’s Nigel Dodds not having to battle an Ulster Unionist candidate in North Belfast.
In return, the UUP will be the only main unionist party fielding candidates in Newry & Armagh (Danny Kennedy) and Fermanagh & South Tyrone (Tom Elliott).
A number of political commentators believe the UUP has the much harder task of winning seats in the two chosen constituencies.
One leading bookmaker would support this view, with the two DUP candidates regarded as overwhelming odds on favourites – Mr Robinson at 1/8 ahead of sitting MP Naomi Long at 7/2, with Mr Dodds being quoted at 1/10 ahead of Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly (5/1).
To date, the same bookmaker has not offered odds on the outcome in Newry & Armagh where Mickey Brady is expected to win comfortably for Sinn Fein.
In 2010, Michelle Gildernew of Sinn Fein was elected in Fermanagh & South Tyrone – the UK’s most closely contested seat – by just four votes.
The Ulster Unionist leader claims that neither he nor DUP leader Peter Robinson got everything they wanted from the deal.
Speaking on the BBC Northern Ireland’s Sunday Politics programme at the weekend, Mr Nesbitt said the pact is intended to increase the overall unionist representation at Westminster.
“It’s not the deal that I wanted but it’s not the deal that Peter Robinson wanted and it is additional to the strategy. Within the context of this, I’m looking at two electoral cycles which run through to 2021.
“We started last year with a reasonable show at local government level – we want to build on that on the 7th of May,” he added.
Some nationalist leaders have claimed the unionist pact has reduced the election in the four constituencies to a “sectarian headcount”.