THE new leaders of Wales' major political parties must work to increase diversity in Welsh politics, a pressure group has said.

Welsh Labour, the Welsh Conservatives and Plaid Cymru are currently in the middle of leadership contests, and Ukip's Assembly group elected Gareth Bennett as its new leader last week.

And now the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) Cymru has written to the 10 candidates running for the Labour, Conservative and Plaid roles calling on them to work to increase diversity in Welsh politics.

Among the organisation's recommendations are for measures to be put in place to ensure at least 45 per cent of all election candidates are women and to encourage people from other groups, such as the disabled, to stand for election. It has also said more political education should be carried out in Welsh schools, while steps should be taken to stamp out abuse in politics.

There are currently only two black AMs - South Wales East's Mohammad Asghar and health secretary Vaughan Gething. And there are currently five more male AMs than there are women.

Jess Blair, director of ERS Cymru, said: “By the end of this year the people who lead the main political parties in Wales will be very different from those that have been in charge to date. These leadership elections offer an unprecedented opportunity for Wales to take the lead on tackling issues of inequality.

“We know that politics currently fails to properly represent the communities we have - for example, the Senedd has never had a female BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) AM.

"Tackling the barriers to getting better representation in Welsh politics could change the very foundation of our democracy.

“In addition we also know the levels of abuse and harassment politicians face are untenable. At present, there seems to be a real lack of appetite to do anything about this.

“These candidates have a duty to step up on this issue and make substantive commitments that could change the face of Welsh politics and make it work so much better for the people of Wales”.

The Welsh Labour race kicked off in May when Carwyn Jones announced he would step down as party leader and first minister at the end of the year. AM for South Wales Central Mark Drakeford, Cardiff South and Penarth's Mr Gething, Eluned Morgan of Mid and West Wales, Ogmore's Huw Irranca-Davies and Blaenau Gwent's Alun Davies have all put themselves forward to succeed him. But so far only finance secretary Mr Drakeford and Mr Gething have secured the necessary five nominations to make it onto the ballot paper. The winner is due to be in place by the end of the year.

The Conservative race was launched at the end of June when Andrew RT Davies announced he was stepping down. Preseli Pembrokeshire AM Paul Davies and South Wales West's Suzy Davies are running to replace him, with the result due to be announced on Thursday, September 6.

And a contest for the leadership for Plaid Cymru was announced in July when Anglesey's Rhun ap Iorwerth and Adam Price, of Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, both challenged Leanne Wood for the top job. As Ms Wood is defending her position, this is the only race which could result in the current leader remaining in place.

The result of this race is due to be announced at the end of September.