THE results of last week’s Welsh Assembly election came as a surprise – good or bed depending on political allegiance – to many.

Despite pollsters predicting Labour could be set to lose as many as three seats, raising the possibility of a coalition government, the party came out of the election with 29 AMs – down just one from the previous Assembly.

But they lost a big hitter in the shape of Leighton Andrews, who was beaten in the race for the Rhondda by Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood with a 3,459 majority.

And this result could have wide-ranging implications – as Public Services Minister Mr Andrews had been responsible for developing the draft Local Government (Wales) Bill, which includes proposals to merge the 22 local authorities in the country into eight or nine larger councils, including a so-called Super Gwent encompassing Newport, Caerphilly, Blaenau Gwent, Torfaen and Monmouthshire.

Although the plans have the backing of a number of other Labour AMs, including First Minister Carwyn Jones, they have proven deeply unpopular among opposition groups, and losing the man in the driving seat could prove a devastating blow.

Mr Andrews is also well known for his bullish nature. On the last day of the previous Assembly a jibe in which he called Plaid Cymru “a cheap date” resulted in the party’s AMs refusing to support the Public Health Bill – which included contentious plans to ban the use of e-cigarettes in public places – leading to it being thrown out.

Ukip – which previously had no representatives in the Senedd – was also a big winner, gaining seven regional AMs. Among them is former Rochester and Strood MP Mark Reckless, who was elected for South Wales East. Former Conservative MP Neil Hamilton – who lost his seat in 1997 after he became embroiled in the ‘cash-for-questions’ scandal – was also elected for Mid and West Wales.

This could significantly shift the balance in Cardiff Bay. With 60 AMs in total, seven votes can often mean the difference between a bill being pushed through or falling, so the support of the new Ukip AMs is likely to be in high demand when contentious issues are being considered.

But the impact of the party, a newcomer to Welsh politics, remains to be seen. Many areas its national division focuses on – most notably the UK’s relationship with the European Union – are not devolved and therefore the new AMs will not have any power over them.

Ukip Wales leader Nathan Gill – also newly elected to the Senedd on the North Wales regional list – repeatedly tried to steer the conversation towards the upcoming referendum during the two live leader’s debates.

Plaid also came out well with 12 seats – up one – while the Conservatives lost three to drop to third place in the Senedd with 11 AMs. The group’s leader Andrew RT Davies – who was re-elected as South Wales Central AM – had not spoken to the press following the results as the Argus went to press on Monday, but is believed to be considering his options.

The Liberal Democrats had an even more dismal result, losing four of their five seats. Following the result party leader and the only AM to retain their seat Kirsty Williams resigned from the head of the group. She was replaced by Ceredigion MP Mark Williams – the only other Liberal Democrat politician in Wales elected to a national role.

Although a number of seats changed hands in Gwent, the political makeup of the region remains largely unchanged. New AMs were elected for Newport West, Islwyn and Caerphilly, but Labour held onto its six constituency seats while the region’s sole Conservative AM Nick Ramsay was re-elected as representative for Monmouth.

The South Wales East regional list was a source of change, however. The seats were previously occupied by two Plaid Cymru AMs and two Conservatives. But Ukip stole a seat from both parties, with Mark Reckless and David Rowlands elected for the party.

Of the four former South Wales East AMs, only Conservative Mohammad ‘Oscar’ Asghar was re-elected. Steffan Lewis was also elected for Plaid Cymru.

Although a new Welsh Government was yet to be officially formed as the Argus went to press on Monday, it looked likely Labour would seek to form a minority administration. The party was one seat short of a majority in 2011’s election but, as the largest party, held control of the Senedd regardless.

But the lack of an overall majority meant the support of opposition AMs was needed in order to push bills through. And in some cases, such as the Public Health Bill, plans can be blocked if all non-Labour AMs vote against them.

And the cut in Labour’s numbers will mean it is more likely bills will fall if they are faced with strong opposition.

Possibly the most serious implications of this are in the M4 relief road plans – while the Conservatives have refused to state which version of the scheme they will support, Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Democrats and Ukip all oppose the project.

This could mean Labour could struggle to push the long-running plan – currently predicted to cost as much as £1.1bn – through, with more than £20m of taxpayer’s money already spent on the plans.

AMs old and new will also have their work cut out for them dealing with the crisis in the steel industry. While all parties have agreed more needs to be done to protect the industry and jobs, approaches to how this should be done differ. Tata Steel – which announced in March it would close its entire UK operation, including its plants in Llanwern and Port Talbot – has made it clear it wants to complete the process as quickly as it can, so action will need to be agreed and taken swiftly if it is to make a difference.

Long-standing issues such as hospital waiting lists, broadband and phone coverage in rural areas and improvements to the transport network across Wales will also occupy AMs throughout this Assembly term.

The Argus will continue to provide extensive coverage of discussions and decisions made in the Senedd both in the paper and online.