Four candidates for tomorrow's Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ADCCI) elections have withdrawn their nominations in support of Abu Dhabi First, the lobby comprising 15 candidates led by Khalfan al Kaabi, a board member at the chamber. Three candidates pulled out in direct support of the group while a fourth endorsed it and then withdrew later. Eighty-five candidates initially signed up to vie for 15 board seats tomorrow in what will be the second election since the voting system was introduced in 2005.
"This is a kind of a democracy for businesses," said Saeed bin Jabr al Suwaidi, a former appointed president of the ADCCI and the chairman of the Bin Jabr Group. Abu Dhabi First, the platform of which calls for lower membership fees and modernising the chamber of commerce, seemed to gain an advantage in the race when Franco Rizzato, the chairman of the Italian Business Council, became the first candidate to drop out in support of the coalition.
Mr Rizzato had prepared for the elections for three months and managed to collect a number of votes, which he plans to forward to Abu Dhabi First. The group, he said, "largely helps improve the performance of the private sector". Jack Matar, the chairman of the Canadian Business Council, also recently withdrew his candidacy for the chamber. Mr Matar will be voting on behalf of the Toledo Group, his medium-sized construction company.
"At the end of the day, the candidate who helps the private sector, encourages foreign business councils to improve the services offered, reduces fees and works closely with the private sector will win the votes," he said. Mr Matar previously said he supported Abu Dhabi First. The other contestants to withdraw were Dr Ahmed al Tamimi, the chief executive of Gulf Enterprises Group, and Altaher al Ghandi, who runs several businesses.
A number of candidates in Abu Dhabi First are seeking a second term, while others previously ran unsuccessfully. One of the latter group is Dr Kassem Alom, the managing director of the Al Noor Hospital and the president of the Syrian Business Council. "I myself, with Abu Dhabi First, aim to provide unique services for businessmen and reduce fees for members of the board," Dr Alom said. "The private sector is looking for a dynamic group who can quickly voice their issues with authorities to simplify the processes, and to listen to the companies." Balloting is conducted through voting cards, which were handed out throughout the Eid al Adha break to registered business owners. Each is allowed only one vote, no matter how many trade licences they may have.
The cards are due to be filed tomorrow and "a huge number" have been collected already, Dr Alom said. The board comprises 21 seats with six appointed by the Government, two of whom must be women. Two of the 15 elected positions are reserved for expatriates. With more than 70,000 active members, the ADCCI is a public body that represents private sector interests. Membership in the chamber is mandatory for all firms holding trade licences in the emirate.
Being on the board of the chamber has a strategic element to it, in that board members have priority in representing their businesses in delegations abroad and get preference in representing their businesses with foreign delegations that visit the UAE. The chamber building also houses the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Foreign Trade. But not everyone is joining the Abu Dhabi First coalition. Afif-Ziad Salloum, a lawyer at Samir A Salloum Advocates and Legal Consultants, is running independently and aims to use his background to be the voice of foreign business in the ADCCI.
The 30-year-old French lawyer and businessman, who grew up in Abu Dhabi, said he was running to "give something back" to Abu Dhabi. "My experience in each of banking, business and law has exposed me to a wide range of problems faced by the foreign business community in Abu Dhabi, and I hope to alleviate some of them," he said. Mr Salloum, the youngest candidate running, added he would try to "improve the ADCCI's role as a mediator between the business community and the government".
Another independent is Muneef Othman Tarmoom, who calls himself "the small companies' candidate". Mr Tarmoom, the former chief executive of the Dubai sovereign fund Istithmar World, said he wanted to build a bloc from small and medium-sized companies to take over most open seats. firstname.lastname@example.org