May 05, 2007

Wales’ first ethnic minority AM

Wales will finally have an ethnic minority Assembly Member after Plaid Cymru’s Mohammad Ashgar was elected in South Wales East.

Mr Ashgar, 61, was the beneficiary of an extra Plaid seat on the regional list, at the expense of Conservative Laura Anne Jones. Mr Ashgar said that “harmony, peace and loving” and helping different sections of society understand each other were among his priorities, and admitted he was still “lost for words” after realising at 6am that he would be going to Cardiff Bay.

Campaigners hailed a breakthrough after attempts to get ethnic minority candidates in 1999 and 2003 foundered.

Simon Woolley, director of Operation Black Vote, said, “This is an historic and exciting day for Welsh politics. Multiculturalism has been celebrated by the election of Mohammad Ashgar as the first black Assembly member. Equally important was the Welsh electorate’s wholesale rejection of the racist BNP.”

Mr Ashgar was born in Peshawar and is councillor in Newport. He is also a member of Plaid Cymru’s national executive, and has contested seats in previous election campaigns.

“I’m very pleased to be the first AM from an ethnic minority, and I would like to see more getting elected to the Assembly,” he said. “I think we need to see a bigger Assembly, more than 60 people, to get proper representation.”

Mr Ashgar arrived at the Senedd in Cardiff Bay yesterday for a photocall with Plaid leader Ieuan Wyn Jones, and for his first meeting with fellow Plaid AMs. He will take up his seat, alongside 14 other Plaid members, when the Assembly holds its first meeting of the of the new session on Wednesday. Plaid were always confident that he would be elected, having come close to capturing the extra list seat in South East Wales on a disappointing election night in 2003. Having failed to deliver a single leaflet in parts of the region four years ago, a co-ordinated campaign was launched to make the seat safe.

Mr Ashgar said, “I am very pleased and I’m sure people are voting for me because they like Plaid Cymru. Plaid had the best manifesto of all the parties. We’re in South-East Wales, we’re not the Far East, it’s part of Wales like any other part of the country.”

The South-East Wales region contained some of the most deprived areas of Britain, he said, and said he wanted to see tackling poverty and deprivation as his main aim in office.

“We’re close to England, but we’re very far away from some of the developments we’ve seen in places like Bristol,” he said.

Mr Ashgar thanked fellow Plaid AM Jocelyn Davies for encouraging him to stand and helping him with his campaign.

“I will be serving with my heart and soul for ethnic minorities which are a definite part of the United Kingdom now, and Wales. I’m lost for words. I’m very excited and I don’t know what to say.”

Plaid leader Ieuan Wyn Jones said he was delighted with the result.

“I have come to know him over the years, and I know about his commitment to the party,” he said. He will not only be representing ethnic minorities but be a good, hard working AM and a good constituency representative.”

Elaine Clayton, Deputy Director of Valleys Race Equality Council, said, “For more than 150 years black communities have been fundamental to the fabric of Welsh society, in the docks, in the mines and today in every walk of life. Our communities, by voting, continue our positive contribution to this great nation.”


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