Wales politics

Coronavirus: Impact on Welsh Parliament election discussion

Ballot box with Wales flag Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption More people will be eligible to vote in 2021, with 16 and 17-year-olds able to take part for the first time

The impact of Covid-19 on the 2021 Welsh Parliament elections is set to be discussed.

The first minister has formed a group to look at arrangements around campaigning and voting if pandemic restrictions are still required.

Representatives from Labour, the Welsh Conservatives, Plaid Cymru, the Brexit Party and the Welsh Liberal Democrats have been invited to participate.

The next Senedd election is scheduled to take place on 6 May 2021.

It will be the first time 16 and 17-year-olds are able to vote in Wales and also the first poll since the Welsh Assembly was renamed the Welsh Parliament.

Health Minister Vaughan Gething previously told ITV Wales it is possible the election may not go ahead as planned.

But there is no mention of a possible delay in instructions for the Welsh Government Elections Planning Group.

Image caption Assembly members have become Members of the Senedd ahead of the election

They read: "The first minister has asked for advice on the practical arrangements that may be necessary in the event that pandemic restrictions such as physical distancing are still required in 2021.

"In doing so, the Welsh Government wants to hear the views of those who would be participating in election campaigns and those involved in the administration of the elections in order that decisions are taken with the knowledge of the implications for the people most directly affected.

"The overall aim is to maximise democratic participation whilst also protecting public health."

The first of the monthly meetings is scheduled to take place on Tuesday afternoon with the aim of gathering "views over the summer so that by September, any changes the group feels would be beneficial can be considered and taken forward".

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Image caption From the first election in 1999 to the present day, Labour has been in government, either alone or in coalition

Topics to be discussed include the challenges of running campaigns, potential increases in postal voting, availability and suitably of polling venues if social distancing is needed and reaching "newly enfranchised" voters such as 16 and 17-year-olds.

As well as representatives from five political parties, members of the group include the Electoral Commission, the Returning Officer for Wales, NUS Wales, and the Welsh and UK governments.

A Welsh Labour source said: "There are lots of practicalities to think through such as how social distancing would affect everything from campaigning to the access observers have at election counts.

"Getting around the table with election officials and other parties is a sensible step in making sure we can hold the Senedd elections in May 2021."

'Failing government'

A source for the Welsh Conservatives said it showed that "this failing Welsh Labour-led Government is franticly trying to cling on to power".

They added: "Ministers should be focused on dealing with the public health and economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic."

A Plaid Cymru spokesman said: "Plaid Cymru's priority is to secure a safe election for all voters in Wales. We will work constructively to achieve a fair and transparent election, enabling a much needed change of government."

Brexit Party source: "We are keen to see restrictions eased before an election. Having limited ability to campaign only favours the larger parties that will hinder democracy."

A Welsh Liberal Democrat spokesman said: "It's important that provisions are made so that everyone can engage in our democratic process.

"This includes more than simply voting, but also enabling proper scrutiny of candidates, their platforms, and their leaders. We all want the election to go ahead as planned, so it's important we have a grown-up conversation about how to make that happen."

A Welsh Government spokesman said: "If we need to keep measures in place to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, arrangements for the Senedd elections in 2021 may need to be adjusted.

"The first minister has established the Elections Planning Group to consider the potential impact on the administration of elections and any impact on legislative provision."

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