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Closed list voting system backed for future Senedd elections.

06 Mar 2024 5 minute read
A polling Station in Cardiff

Chris Haines, ICNN Senedd reporter

Labour and Plaid Cymru voted down changes to an “undemocratic” voting system proposed for future Senedd elections.

Senedd polls from 2026 would use a so-called closed list-system which would see the electorate voting for parties rather than specific candidates.

Concerns have been raised that this places too much power in the hands of political parties which would decide the order of their candidates on eight-name lists for each constituency.

Opposition MSs proposed moving to a flexible-list system to give people more say – with candidates receiving more than 10% of their party’s votes leaping to the top of the list.

But the Conservative proposal, backed by the Liberal Democrats, was defeated 40-16 during a heated debate on amendments to the Senedd Cymru (Members and Elections) bill.

Darren Millar warned that closed lists amount to a power grab by political parties, which would dictate the order of candidates and determine those most likely to be elected.

‘Hugely detrimental’

Calling for greater voter choice, the Conservatives’ shadow constitution minister said: “It is a hugely detrimental step for Welsh democracy.”

Mr Millar argued closed lists would result in a parliament where MSs’ loyalty to their political party would trump the interests of their constituents.

He said: “Party whips on the Labour and Plaid benches will force members to vote for it – even if it is against their better judgement.”

Mr Millar accused Plaid Cymru of “rolling over” to Labour’s demands and “slavishly” voting in lockstep with the Welsh Government.

Addressing the Plaid Cymru benches, he said: “You’re prepared to kowtow to the Labour party as the little lap dogs that we have seen over the years in this chamber.

“I would have thought and hoped that you’d have a better backbone than that frankly.”

‘Stitch-up’

Jane Dodds, an advocate of the single transferable vote (STV), which would allow voters to number candidates, said Senedd committees heard no evidence in favour of closed lists.

The Lib Dems’ leader in Wales told the chamber: “We heard time after time after time that closed-list systems put power in the hands of the party, not the people.”

Backing calls for a flexible-list system, Ms Dodds said the landmark bill represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to revolutionise democracy in Wales.

She told MSs that experts have roundly criticised closed lists as undemocratic, reducing voter choice and autonomy over candidate selection.

Ms Dodds warned that Wales would be an outlier, disconnected from democratic norms, with voter empowerment and candidate accountability glaringly missing.

She said: “This proposal has all the hallmarks of a backroom deal – a stitch-up decided behind closed doors – designed to present closed lists as a fait accompli.”

‘Compromise’

Plaid Cymru committed to the single transferable vote in its 2021 Senedd election manifesto and Heledd Fychan said her party continues to favour STV or a flexible-list system.

She told the chamber: “This is a compromise – collaboration, finding the middle ground for the benefit of our communities – there is nothing secretive about that … this shows maturity.”

Ms Fychan stressed the priority is to ensure that the “bold” reforms are in place by 2026, with a meaningful review to consider further changes to the electoral system by 2030.

She pointed out that the first-past-the-post system used to elect MPs in Westminster, in reality, sees voters choosing from a closed list of one candidate selected by a party.

Ms Fychan said: “The idea that the particular kind of proportional representation provided for in this bill is the end of democracy in Wales or the end of devolution is an overstatement.”

Supermajority

Mick Antoniw, Wales’ constitution minister, said the closed-list system can command the necessary supermajority of two-thirds support to pass through the Senedd.

The member in charge of the bill, which would increase the number of MSs from 60 to 96, argued the proposed system would ensure that every vote counts.

He said: “Firstly, it represents a much more democratic and fairer system. It is an enormous improvement on the system that we have at the moment.

“And, secondly, it provides an opportunity and a mechanism where the experience we have in 2026 can be reviewed.

“The objective above all else: if we don’t have a two-thirds majority then nothing changes.”

Alun Davies, a Labour backbencher, said: “It is right and proper that we find common ground with each other to make improvements and strengthen our democracy.”

Recall and vacant seats

The Senedd rejected a Conservative amendment which would have introduced a mechanism for voters to remove MSs between elections by signing a recall petition.

Labour and Plaid Cymru said the standards committee will be undertaking work on accountability and recalling members by the end of this Senedd term.

Conservative amendments to close a “loophole” allowing second home owners to stand in Senedd elections and introduce a 21-day grace period for disqualification both fell.

Members agreed a Tory amendment on powers for Welsh ministers to increase the number of ministers in future, without going through the full parliamentary scrutiny process.

The power will now be subject to a two-thirds supermajority rather than a simple majority.

Lib-Dem calls for a by-elections to be held for vacant seats which would not otherwise be filled were voted down but agreement was reached on ensuring names are on ballot papers.

The stage-two debate continues Today (6 March).


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Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 month ago

You watch the Green Vote go shooting up among the young voters, they will see through this behaviour and will remember how they got shafted over Brexit and vote accordingly…

hdavies15
hdavies15
1 month ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

More evidence that the “soft” fascism is on the rise in Cymru. Just wait until it goes ‘ard then it will be too late to start protesting about loss of democratic process.

Fi yn unig
Fi yn unig
1 month ago

This isn’t a pro or anti closed list system comment and despite saying previously that I normally read the whole article before posting here, I had to stop when I read that Darren Millar is wielding the term ‘power grab’. Now I’m used to Tory hypocrisy but honestly, I nearly spat my teeth out – AND THEY’RE MY OWN!

Annibendod
Annibendod
1 month ago

I’m really disappointed about this. I’d much rather that we’d stuck to our principles and told Labour that we couldn’t support closed lists even at the cost of the bill falling through. We could at least look the electorate square in the eye then. Now we’re complicit in Labour’s stitch up and I fear that could be costly. Bad ethically, bad politically, bad for Welsh Democracy. Siomedig iawn.

David
David
1 month ago
Reply to  Annibendod

Plaid Cymru must now expect to loose votes for backing Labour, as they now do not believe (or agree) in STV and open lists. (remember Lib Dems in coalition in Westminster on their students sell out!)

Annibendod
Annibendod
1 month ago
Reply to  David

We say we do but we voted for something else. The Lib Dem comparison is fair and we can expect to pay a price for it.

Steve. Thomas
Steve. Thomas
1 month ago

Totally agree with other writers in here, this will prove to be another nail I Plaid’s coffin-DUMP LABOUR, THEY ARE TOXIC

hdavies15
hdavies15
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve. Thomas

Too late as too many of senior Plaid personnel are quietly happy with this. Were they unhappy they could have sunk it at any time.

Gwyn Hopkins
Gwyn Hopkins
1 month ago

 Voter turn-out has, disappointingly, been under 50% in all past Assembly/Senedd elections and my guess is that the proposed undemocratic Closed List voting system will result in turn-out being much less than at any election since 1999. This is because many people in Wales that have no party allegiance will not be prepared to vote for any party. Others will not vote for the party they normally support if they disapprove of any of the 6 candidates on its list. Like Laura McAllister and Dafydd Wigley I strongly oppose the introduction of the Closed List voting system at the next… Read more »

CapM
CapM
1 month ago
Reply to  Gwyn Hopkins

Under the proposed new system what prevents independent candidates from standing and small or new parties putting forward their candidates?

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