Voters are heading to the polls to elect a new Welsh Government on Thursday against the backdrop of coronavirus and debate about the country’s future relationship with the United Kingdom.
Voting opens at 7am until 10pm, but unlike previous years counting and declarations will take place the following day due to rules designed to ensure the safety for those working to count and verify ballots.
The 2021 Welsh Parliament election is the first since the legislature was renamed from the National Assembly of Wales as well as the first in which 16 and 17-year-olds can vote.
But issues stemming from the pandemic have unsurprisingly dominated discussions, debates and headlines in the lead up to polling day.
Welsh Labour leader Mark Drakeford is favourite to be returned as First Minister, and hopes to capitalise on the success of Wales’ vaccination programme as well as his favourable approval ratings during the pandemic.
Labour are hoping to maximise the number of seats they win in order to minimise their reliance on other parties to help them form a government, knowing that no party has ever won an outright majority in Wales.
Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price has ruled out the party being a junior coalition partner, as they were between 2007 and 2011, and has said he would call an independence referendum within five years were he in government and described Covid as a “game changer” for the independence movement.
His stance could prove a stumbling block to working with Mr Drakeford, who has said he wants Wales to remain within the UK but with an “entrenched form of devolution” which cannot be rolled back by the UK government.
The Welsh Conservatives’ leader in the Senedd, Andrew RT Davies, says Wales should not change its relationship with the UK, and that the country’s focus should be on rebuilding post Covid with support from Westminster.
He has denied a vote for the Tories would put the future of Welsh devolution at risk, despite the party fielding three candidates who have said they would choose to abolish the Senedd.
Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Jane Dodds is hoping she can retain her party’s sole seat currently held by Kirsty Williams, who is stepping down after helping Labour form the last government.
Ms Dodds has said independence would cause generations of damage to Wales, while her party’s views on creating a federal UK mirrors those held by Mr Drakeford.
Reform UK – formerly the Brexit Party – say there is no public mandate for either Welsh independence or getting rid of the Senedd, but said it would campaign for Wales to stay in the UK and to keep a Welsh Parliament.
But both Ukip and Abolish the Welsh Assembly have said they are both committed to scrapping Wales’ parliament to return its powers to Westminster.
Social distancing measures in place mean voters will have to keep to the two-metre rule within polling stations, wear a face mask and keep to one-way systems, while clear safety screens will be in use.
Voters are being encouraged to bring their own pens or pencils to fill in their ballot papers but they will also be available at the poling stations.
People will be asked to select a candidate for the constituency vote, which will be the person they want to represent them and their local area, which will make up 40 of 60 members of the Senedd.
They will then cast their regional vote for candidates to represent their region of Wales, with 20 members of the Senedd representing their five regions.
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