A FINE old election tradition was revived in Ammanford last week - a public meeting featuring the Assembly candidates for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr.

After years of spin doctoring and media manipulation, residents were given a chance to come face to face with the politicians hoping to represent the area after the polls close today (Thur).

Away from the glare of television a packed audience at the Miners' Theatre got a chance to have their say in a special Question Time, organised by the Ammanford Workers' Educational Association.

And as the voters settled into the theatre's seats, three candidates stepped into the public spotlight - AM Rhodri Glyn Thomas (Plaid Cymru), Anthony Cooper (Labour) and Harri Lloyd Davies (Conservative).

Liberal Democrat Steffan John, who had also been invited, was noticeable by his absence.

Members of the public jostled with the party faithful brought by all three candidates to introduce a torrent of questions.

Perhaps not unexpectedly the subject of car parking charges for Ammanford, Llandeilo and Llandovery came up.

It was a case of light the blue touch paper and stand back (although in the interest of fair coverage this should also include, red and yellow touchpaper).

Mr Cooper challenged Mr Thomas to join him in the battle to stop Carmarthenshire Council imposing parking charges in Ammanford, Llandeilo and Llandovery.

Mr Thomas refused - claiming it was a council issue.

"When my constituents have asked me to make representations to the council I have done so, but I have to accept what the council say to me on this issue," he replied.

The political football went back and fore on this subject - was Labour's Best Value policy to blame or was it the Plaid/Independent coalition that runs the county council?

Health, and cures for the NHS waiting lists, hit home with Conservative Mr Lloyd Davies.

Too many managers and not enough matrons. Oooh!

"There are too many bureaucrats running the hospital and not enough staff on the wards," he said.

"Matrons would help the NHS regain stability."

Mr Cooper retaliated by claiming that Labour had invested millions in the NHS and promised more millions if re-elected to power.

If that were the case, retorted Mr Thomas, where had the funds been spent.

Questions moved on to cover a range of subjects including the Welsh economy, student loans, public transport, farming and education.

QUESTION TIME: Guardian editor Steve Robbins (second left), who chaired the debate, with Carmarthen East and Dinefwe candidates Rhodri Glyn Thomas, Harri Lloyd Davies and Anthony Cooper.