Published Saturday, 31 March 2012
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The Strangford MLA won with 536 votes, a convincing margin over John McCallister, who received 129 votes.
Party members made their decision at the UUP AGM on Saturday and with 665 votes cast, UTV's Political Editor Ken Reid said it was a "landslide victory" for Mr Nesbitt.
Mr Nesbitt was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly last year for Strangford and before that he was a Victim's Commissioner.
Mr McCallister, who delivered his wife Jane's second baby earlier this week, finished a distant second, netting only about a third of the votes.
"This will be disappointing for the McCallister camp but a significant victory for Mike Nesbitt," Ken Reid said.
At the meeting on Saturday, Mr Nesbitt pledged to instill a new spirit among people in Northern Ireland.
"I want everyone in this country to get out of bed with a sense of purpose. I want this party to wake up with a sense of purpose," he said.
Speaking to UTV, Mr Nesbitt said there will be changes within the UUP.
"There will be a partial reshuffle, I'm totally focused at this stage on what needs to be done in terms of the party," he said.
If elected, John McCallister had pledged to remove the UUP from the Stormont Executive and form an official opposition, but Mr Nesbitt said he would hold a referendum on the issue.
After the election, Mr McCallister described himself as "a party loyalist".
"Whatever the party decides, I will abide by that, whether it had been 50% plus one, whatever.
"You can't put yourself up for election and suddenly not accept the outcome of that election," he added.
Earlier this month, the party's former leader Tom Elliott announced his decision to step down. Mr Elliott will stay on as MLA for Fermanagh and South Tyrone.
© UTV News