I am a young woman of colour and faith: why should I care about the Welsh assembly elections?!
I attended workshops on the Welsh Assembly elections at the Senedd and every time I took part, I learnt something new and felt empowered.
The Senedd is one of the most striking modern buildings in the world today. When visiting the Senedd, one is stunned by the architectural design and the deep meaning of every material the Senedd was built from. The outer walls of the Senedd are mainly made from glass symbolising the aspiring political transparency. The interior of the building is beautifully modelled on a "Tree of Life/Democracy" concept with the trunk and its branches constructed of flowing strips of red cedar. At the base of the tree trunk sit the assembly of 60 Welsh MPs who symbolise the roots of the tree of democracy. If the roots are healthy, the tree blooms and flourishes, producing its fruit all the time, low and near at hand and if the roots are weakened, the tree becomes volatile.
This tree concept is pertinent to many but as a Muslim this concept resonates with me even more because in the Muslim holy book (the Qur'an) God says: Have you not considered how God presents an example, [making] a good word like a good tree, whose root is firmly fixed and its branches [high] in the sky? It produces its fruit all the time, by permission of its Lord. And God presents examples for the people that perhaps they will be reminded. (14: 24-25)
I was reminded of this concept when I visited the Senedd. Indeed, our British politics is far from perfect and even farther from the concept of the flourishing tree as it is dominated by white, middle age men and our youth, women and BME communities who are less likely to vote for right wing parties are mostly ignored. However, Welsh democracy and politics have proven to be progressive and more representative, despite its limited powers, where 42% of national assembly members are women and its members' composition is relatively younger than Westminster.
Unlike England, each Welsh citizen has two votes - one to elect a constituency member and one to elect a regional member. The first past the post (FPP) - when the winner takes all - is applied in the constituency election but not in the regional election, whereby proportional representation is applied. This means that although some of us feel the need to vote tactically in our constituency, in Wales we can vote for what we believe, in the regional elections, enhancing the chances of winning a seat for the smaller parties such as Green and Plaid Cymru. This electoral system allows each of us to be represented not only by one assembly member (AM) but five! Moreover, if you are Welsh and you have an issue that you are passionate about and would like it to be discussed at the Assembly, all you need is 10 people to sign a petition and there is no age restriction, unlike Westminster where you need 100,000 signatures for a petition to be discussed at Westminster.
This is an opportunity for youth and women in particular who are majorly underrepresented and their needs are overlooked. In the general elections of 2010, only 36% of people turned out to vote and only 1 in 10 of those voters were young people. Furthermore, 96% of people over 65 voted in comparison with 44% among young people. The result is simple, old people received free bus travel, free TV license, free prescriptions, winter fuel allowance and many more, whilst the young people had their EMA taken away in England, youth services have been slashed and tuition fees tripled! In addition, the living wage for under 25 years is 50p an hour less than over 25 year old! The elderly of our communities deserve these provisions and more but so do the young people, women and the disadvantaged communities. The involvement and participation of youth, women and ethnic minorities are necessary conditions of an inclusive society, a healthy democracy, a revitalised politics and dignified life for all.
I am not naïve about the fact that political leaders have proved so resilient to make positive changes to serve the underrepresented and disadvantaged communities. However, the votes of the ignored segments of our society including youth can potentially influence these leaders and change the results of 2016 Welsh assembly elections, allowing voters to have a stake in the ongoing dynamic of controversy, resolution and change. I am not calling for any party or a segment of the society to dominate nor to be the whole but to be recognised as a vital part of the whole and as capable as others of standing for it.
None of this could happen, if you and I do not vote, our opinion will not count and people in power will ignore us even more. If you don't vote, you let others act on your behalf and make decisions for you. Politicians create laws, set up budgets and prepare policies which reflect the needs of their voters. It's simple, If you don't vote, you have no voice and your needs are ignored.
The Welsh public life should not be occupied by racists, a few celebrities and unrepresentative politicians. It should be occupied by grassroot people who are struggling to voice their concerns and seeking to take part, influencing decision makers and working for the common good.
After all, there will not be a whole country, a whole city or whole community greater than the sum of its parts, unless most citizens of the UK and Wales in particular feel that this land is theirs - ours and that we are in it, of it and willing to know it.