Delaying May’s Senedd elections would have ‘huge ramifications’, warns Flintshire based MS
Delaying the Senedd elections due to take place in May would have “huge ramifications”, a Flinthire based MS has warned.
An emergency bill to ensure the next Senedd election can happen safely, despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, has been introduced before the Senedd by the Welsh Government.
The Welsh Elections (Coronavirus) Bill introduces a range of measures to make it easier for those affected by the pandemic to vote.
It makes it possible to delay polling day by up to six months if the pandemic continues to pose a serious threat to public health and the conduct of the election.
The postponement and the fixing of a new date for the election would be proposed by the Presiding Officer and would require the agreement of two-thirds of Members
Other measures include the ability for a voter to send someone to vote on their behalf if they are self-isolating.
Allowing the Senedd to keep sitting for up to seven calendar days before the election, instead of it being dissolved 21 working days before the election as is usually the case.
A virtual Welsh Parliament debate was held yesterday Welsh Conservative MS Mark Isherwood said a delay would leave many feeling “disenfranchised” at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic has put the work of devolved governments in the spotlight.
He emphasised that elections have taken place in other countries during the pandemic and he believes that the Welsh elections should take place on the 6th May 2021, except in exceptional emergency circumstances.
He said: “Although the pandemic crisis has been here since March 2020, and we have known the date for the next Welsh Parliament election for five years, the First Minister didn’t suggest a change in regulations until November.
“We must therefore ask why the Welsh Government has put itself in the situation where it needs to be using such emergency procedures?
“Where is the foresight, when it was evident that the pandemic would still be dominating the agenda?
“Some may say that the drop in public confidence in the Welsh Government’s handling of the pandemic may have had an influence on their motives for seeking this emergency bill now, but I couldn’t possibly comment.
“Whilst we will vote today to agree that the Welsh Government can introduce the Welsh Elections (Coronavirus) Bill as an emergency bill in the Senedd, recognising the potential need for a delay based on a badly deteriorating public health situation, we are only lending them our vote.
“However, the Welsh Government has not said what situation the pandemic needs to be in to require an election delay, and our continued support would require the Welsh Government to specify what the “bar” will need to be before the First Minister formally requests a delay.”
In a statement today,Minister for Housing and Local Government, Julie James said:
“The coronavirus pandemic has had an impact on every aspect of our lives over the last year. Families across Wales have lost loved ones to the virus, while many more have and still suffer from it. Given the unpredictable nature of the virus, there is significant uncertainty about what the public health situation will be like in May. That’s why we need to act now to respond to the potential risks to the election arising from the pandemic.”
“Our priority is on ensuring the election can proceed and be conducted as safely a possible. The Bill we are introducing today will help ensure people can exercise their democratic right to vote in the election, but to do so in a safe and secure way. The Welsh Government appreciates the huge efforts being made by the staff who run our elections to ensure it can be held safely.”
“While the Welsh Government remains committed to the Senedd elections taking place on 6th May as planned, under normal procedures, there would be no Members of the Senedd with legal powers to take decisions, for example in relation to legislation related to the covid pandemic, for nearly a month before polling day. Given the unprecedented circumstances, the Bill allows the Senedd to continue to be constituted until seven working days before the poll.”
“The Bill also provides a contingency power for the election to be postponed for up to 6 months, if the prevalence of the virus closer to the time means the election could not be conducted safely and securely. Such a decision could only be taken with the agreement of two-thirds of Members of the Senedd, which means all Members would have a role in the final decision.”