Voting for a new Britain: Fears grow over low Welsh turnout

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The Independent Online
PRIVATE LABOUR Party polls show that less than half of Welsh voters are likely to turn out in the elections for the Assembly, throwing the whole institution into doubt.

Most politicians in the four big parties are desperate to ensure that a majority of the electorate votes on Thursday. However a survey conducted for Labour predicts that only 48 per cent will make it to the polling booth.

Labour, Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Democrats and even some Conservatives, whose party opposed the establishment of the Assembly, will be doing all they can to boost interest in the election or face the charge that the Assembly will be an undemocratic talking-shop. Plaid said yesterday that its confidence in a reasonable turnout was increasing and they expected it to be nearer 60 per cent.

The legitimacy of devolution was called into question in 1997 when the referendum on the principle only attracted a 50.3 per cent turnout and just 50.3 per cent of those who voted wanted the Assembly.

Despite the lack of interest detected by Labour, the party hierarchy is "absolutely certain" that Alun Michael, Tony Blair's favourite for leader of the Assembly, will be elected as one of the "top-up" candidates in mid and west Wales.

Officials at Plaid nevertheless believe that only 250 Labour voters would have to switch to the nationalists for Mr Michael to be defeated. Their assertion is supported by the Institute of Welsh Politics at Aberystwyth University, which believes Mr Michael's chances are on a knife-edge.

Labour's private poll suggests that the party will take 50 per cent of the vote, giving a three-seat majority and putting it 25 percentage points ahead of Plaid. The estimates show a reduction in support for the Tories from 20 per cent in the last general election to nearer 15 per cent now. They also reveal that Plaid Cymru is making considerable headway in the marginal seat of Carmarthen East.

In the three days of electioneering remaining, Peter Hain, Labour's campaign manager, will be driving home three messages to party supporters: "Turn out to vote, use both of them for Labour and don't let Plaid Cymru ruin economic stability."

In the few remaining days Plaid will be sticking to its line of attacking New Labour, especially in the socialist heartlands of South Wales.