ABU DHABI // Emiratis yesterday broadly welcomed a newly extended franchise for the second elections to the FNC, although some called for clearer "road map" for the council's future.
A resolution published on Tuesday tripled the minimum size of the electoral college in each emirate. In the first FNC elections in 2006, half the council's 40 members were appointed and the other half were elected by a caucus of 6,689 Emiratis. The term of the first half-elected FNC ended last Saturday, after its final session the previous Tuesday.
"It is not a giant leap, but a step in the right direction," said Najla al Awadi, at 34 one of the youngest FNC members appointed in 2006.
"The leadership and its people have a close relationship, and that's the secret of its success," she said. "So if the leadership decided to move at a slower gradual pace, then there were good reasons for it. We can't expect immediate change. Each country has to move at its own pace."
A separate presidential decree created a National Election Committe to be chaired by Dr Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for FNC Affairs. Ms al Awadi said the committee would "clarify" issues around the next, as yet unscheduled, election. "One of the crucial roles of every former FNC member is to help out in the new elections, by engaging and advising the Emiratis who will participate," she said.
"This is important as more Emiratis will be involved, and they will need our experience and knowledge."
Sultan al Suwaidi, 60, an elected FNC member, said the resolution was a step forward but did not go far enough.
He said elections should be open to all Emiratis.
“Emiratis have proven themselves in various fields and so any Emirati who meets the conditions of a voter, such as being over 18, should be allowed to vote and participate in the governance of their country,” he said.
The 2006 Supreme Council decree that gave each emirate an electoral college at least 100 times the number of its representatives at the FNC should be considered a successful “experiment phase”, he said. With the new resolution, each emirate can now appoint a minimum of 300 times that number to the electoral college.
“I feel we can be more bold and allow all Emiratis to participate and vote,” he said.
Both members said a “clear roadmap”, a guide to the overall vision for what is to follow, was now needed.
Academics were more critical of the new policy, and suggested that not enough information had been provided about voters and how they would be chosen.
“What are the criteria for picking the group of Emiratis who will participate in the elections in the first place?” said Dr Ibtisam al Ketbi, a writer and political science professor at United Arab Emirates University in Al Ain.
“If there is a plan, a clear process, then we would like to know about it,” she said.
“As an Emirati woman, I would like to understand and participate in major decisions that affect my country.”
Dr al Ketbi said the number participating in the process mattered less than how effective the FNC could be in effecting change. “It remains an advisory unit for the Government, rather than a legislative one,” she said. Some FNC members have sought greater powers.
One of the UAE’s senior academics and critics, Dr Abdullah al Shamsi, 50, said the changes did not go far enough in terms of representation.
“Every Emirati is equal, and so no Emirati should be excluded from elections, as the FNC is one of the few bodies an average Emirati can have a seat in and voice their concern,” he said.
Ordinary Emiratis welcomed the announcement. “Anything that involves more voting means more democracy,” said Saood al Ahbaby, a 26-year-old who works for Musanada, a local company providing public services. “This will not only help us, but it will help expats too, because they also live in this country.”
Ahmad al Rumaithi, a 30-year-old businessman, said: “This means more freedom, and more discussions about a lot of subjects, and it will clear the issues.”
Laila al Hosani, 48, a retired teacher, said: “More votes is great, even though this country does not need any change, they never leave a problem unsolved.”
“Sheikh Zayed, may his soul rest in peace, used to love every person in the UAE, he cared that everyone is living comfortably and in peace, even the non-educated, even all kinds of women, whether married or divorced or a widow, he put women first in line for houses and lands then the rest, always special needs people before others.”