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When Natasha Asghar was elected to represent the South Wales East region in the Senedd earlier this month, she made history.
Ms Asghar became the first woman of colour ever elected to the Welsh Parliament.
Her father, Mohammad ‘Oscar’ Asghar, was the first person of colour, and the first muslim, elected to the Senedd back in 2007.
What is a regional Senedd Member and how are they elected?
At Senedd Elections, voters have two ballot papers. The first is to vote for a candidate to represent a constituency. Wales is divided into 40 constituencyes, each electing one Senedd Member using a first past the post system.
The second ballot is to vote for a party to represent the region. Wales is divided into five regions, each electing four regional Senedd Members.
Each party submits a list of candidates for the regions, ranked in order.
But which Senedd Members are elected through the regional vote isn’t necessarily a case of whoever gets the most votes. A formula is used to determine who is elected.
The system is designed to give more representation to parties who wouldn’t otherwise be elected through the first past the post system.
Each party’s total number of votes is divided by one, plus the number of constituency Senedd Members it has elected in the region.
The party with the highest total after this method then has its highest ranking candidate elected as a regional Senedd Member. The process is carried out again and again until four Senedd Members are elected.
What area does South Wales East cover?
The South Wales East region includes the constituencies of Caerphilly, Islwyn, Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, Newport West, Newport East, Blaenau Gwent, Torfaen and Monmouth.
He was elected as a Plaid Cymru member but defected to the Welsh Conservatives in 2009, and served in Cardiff Bay until his unexpected death in June last year, aged 74.
Meanwhile, Ms Asghar’s mother, Firdaus Hussain – was a doctor who was, for a time, a mayoress.
So it’s fair to say that politics runs in Ms Asghar’s blood. But her journey to becoming the first woman of colour elected to the Welsh Parliament is entirely her own.
Her political career mirrors that of her father’s – joining Plaid Cymru before defecting to the Conservative Party in 2009.
Like her father, Ms Asghar studied politics at university, but said there was never any pressure from the family to pursue this path.
My mother is very conventional and wanted to me pursue something like law or medicine,” she said.
“Oscar and I got into politics around the same time.”
Ms Asghar went to Rougemont School in Newport and spent some of her youth in Cardiff before moving back to Newport.
When she was unsure what she wanted to study at university, Ms Asghar spoke with her father, who asked her what it was she liked doing.
“I liked to talk,” she responded.
“If you look back on all my school reports every single one says the same thing, it’s the one criticism.”
This, combined with work experience placements at the Senedd and with then-Member of the European Parliament Jill Evans, helped steer Ms Asghar towards studying politics.
She recalled attending a protest against the Iraq war in the early 2000s, which also piqued her interest in her new career path.
After leaving university, Ms Asghar worked in a bank for four years, before embarking on a ten-year career as a radio and TV presenter, which included a spell working as a presenter with shopping channel QVC.
During her banking days, Ms Asghar stood as the Plaid Cymru candidate for the 2007 National Assembly for Wales election in Blaenau Gwent and for the Wales seat in the 2009 European Union elections.
For the past four years, Ms Asghar has been commuting between London and Wales to help care for her mother, who suffers from numerous health issues.
Since the pandemic, she has worked for a PR firm producing UK Government coronavirus safety campaigns on issues such as social distancing and contact tracing, as well as campaigns aimed at ethnic minorities in a variety of different languages.
The pandemic has been a difficult time for everyone, including Ms Asghar, who lost her father last summer.
Although his death wasn’t coronavirus-related, the pandemic affected the way Ms Asghar could grieve.
She said: “It was horrific. I lost someone who meant the world to me during Covid.
“For the struggles of people who lost loved ones during Covid or from Covid, I completely understand and sympathise because you’re not able to mourn properly, you can’t hug people who want to offer their condolences, funerals were perhaps not done as we were used to prior to the Covid days.”
She also talked about her concerns for the future of the NHS and the “burden” it’s going to face, particularly with the number of operations postponed due to the pandemic.
Ms Asghar said: “Once things start reopening, those people are going to need their operations more so than ever because they’ve spent a year at home in pain or suffering or just waiting for that appointment.”
She raised concerns over the doctors and nurses becoming “even more overburdened than they were during Covid”.
“I’d like to work with the health boards quite closely to ensure that their wellbeing is taken care of to the best of everyone’s ability because without them we are nothing,” she said.
Regeneration is another issue Ms Asghar says she wants to address.
She said: “When I was growing up, I used to love going to the town centre. Newport town centre was a thriving place and we had so many great shops to go to.
“People would come from Cwmbran, Torfaen, Islwyn – all across the region – to shop in Newport because we had opportunities there.
“It was really lovely and a safe place to be but now when I go to the high street, honestly, it breaks my heart.”
She blamed the pandemic for “wreaking havoc” and said: “A lot of the things that I had the privilege of growing up with in Newport, other people won’t have that”.
“I really want to see South East Wales thrive. I really want to see the economy here booming through and through.
“Not just from shops but from tourism, from transport, from every aspect and that’s what I want to do.”
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