IT’S possible to walk the entire length of Cardiff’s City Road without realising the capital city is in the midst of a general election campaign.

The road runs in a near straight line, for just over half a mile, and is home to food retailers, restaurants and takeaways, numerous barber salons and shisha bars. Every doorway, from Cardiff’s student area to the edge of the city centre, is seemingly an opening to a different corner of the globe.

People from around the world have made their home in the local area and on City Road have established businesses serving those from all backgrounds.

Many, thanks to a law passed last year ensuring all legally resident foreign nationals in Wales are eligible to vote in the Senedd elections, will be able to actively participate in Welsh democracy for the first time.

The Electoral Commission estimates around 33,000 people in Wales have been enfranchised by the decision though, as UK law currently stands, they will not be able to vote in UK-wide elections.

But on this inner-city thoroughfare there appears to be little effort to engage with any potential voters – those with long-held voting rights or from across the world able to vote for the first time.

Only the eagle-eyed are likely to spot what appears to be the street’s solitary political poster, stuck inside a window of a barber shop just above ground level, for Propel Party candidate Dilan Nazari.

Inside the barber isn’t keen to talk but wants to make clear displaying the poster isn’t intended as an endorsement and he displays various posters as a service to the community. Neither is he paying much attention to the Senedd campaign: “My English is not very good so I don’t listen to the news.”

On City Road it seems the Senedd election has failed to capture the attention of anyone, no matter how long they have held the right to vote.

However Sofia Revi, who is from Germany and has lived in Cardiff for 10 years, thinks that if EU citizens had been denied the vote it would have sent the wrong message:

“It would not be welcoming, it would say you’re not welcome to integrate with people.”

Ms Revi, who is managing the Islamic Relief Shop, tries to avoid discussion of politics and religion and hasn’t had to make much effort to avoid the former: “I’ve not heard anybody talking about it [the Senedd election]. I’ve not seen any candidates around but I’m very busy with the shop.”


EU citizens had previously been able to vote in elections to the former Welsh Assembly, with eligibility similar to rules governing participation in local elections, but voting in UK general elections has been restricted to British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens with the right to remain in the UK.

Perhaps the apparent lack of engagement isn’t surprising considering the complications on eligibility and the minimal coverage given to a decision, taken at the same time as that to grant votes to 16- and 17-year-olds, to also extend the Welsh franchise to all legally resident foreign nationals. Previously only those who’d taken British citizenship had been eligible to vote.

A potential further complication around eligibility is that at the same time all Welsh residents aged 16 and over will be able to vote for Members of the Senedd, elections for police and crime commissioners (PCC) are also taking place. With eligibility rules for the PCC elections the same across Wales and England only those who are 18 and over can vote and must be British or Irish citizens, or from Commonweath countries, though citizens of EU countries are also able to vote.

Shopkeeper Hasan Kaya, whose giant International Food Centre supplies Middle Eastern and Turkish goods to a wide range of customers, thinks there is a lack of awareness of voting rights.

“People think they haven’t got the paperwork to vote, or that you have to be British. It is not very well explained,” said Mr Kaya who suggests information on voting entitlement could be given when various documentation needs to be submitted to government departments.

He said he would have been happy to have fliers, such as the pamphlet produced by the Electoral Commission and posted to every household explaining the upcoming elections, in his shop to spread awareness.

Salha Ahmed, who is originally from northern Iraq and has lived in the UK for around 20 years, says he has little interest in politics. He also feels politicians have failed to act on concerns he’s previously raised.

“I’m not really planning to vote and I’m not really interested in politics. I don’t see anything for us (from politicians) and nothing is going to change.

“In the past I’ve spoken to a few Members of Parliament, local MPs about parking or lighting and nothing has been done,” said Mr Ahmed, who as a restaurateur, has most recently been concerned with when the Welsh Government will allow indoor dining again.

Mr Ahmed, however, does believe people from the Kurdish community will be keen to use the right to vote and despite his indifference he is aware of campaigners from both Propel and Labour, which is defending the Cardiff Central seat, having been active locally.

Fears that there is a lack of understanding and a failure to explain the expansion of the right to vote are shared by an organisation working with the African diaspora, and groups of asylum seekers and refugees from various continents, in Swansea.

Kwesi Idun, of the African Community Centre in Swansea, would like to have seen greater efforts made to reach out to the newly enfranchised: “I don’t think it’s been well explained and I’ve only heard kind of minimal things about it and I’ve only really heard about the lowering of the voting age to 16- and 17-year-olds. It could have been better explained.”

The community centre has organised Zoom meetings with Senedd members in the past five months and outreach workers to explain eligibility. It has also publicised the Senedd elections through its social media channels but engagement work has been hampered by lockdown restrictions.

Mr Idun, who is Welsh-Ghanian, agrees with the general consensus that the May 6 poll will be the highest profile Senedd election yet and said there is interest among the centre’s client base:

“There is more awareness and it’s not just from watching the Welsh news but you’ll see Mark Drakeford on the UK news. Previously Nicola Sturgeon was the only first minister you’d see (on the UK news), but now you’ll see Arlene Foster as well, it has to make a difference in making us all more aware of devolution.”

He would also like to see UK government departments, especially the Home Office which is heavily involved with asylum seekers including placing people in Wales, explain the country’s democratic institutions.

“When people move to this country, for any reason, there should be information as people may not be aware Britain has got devolved governments and more clarity on why Senedd elections are important.”

The easiest way to engage with voters though, urges Idun, is to speak with them something he’d also like to see police and crime commissioner candidates do even with those, such as asylum seekers, who may not have the vote:

“Obviously politicians do that to a certain extent but it should be more all year round, and maybe increase a bit at elections, not think ‘It’s an election we have to get this group involved’.”