ABU DHABI // Ministers expect a large increase in the number of voters at this year's FNC elections in a push for participation they say is partly a result of the Arab Spring.
Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for FNC Affairs, said yesterday he expected about 70,000 Emiratis to go to the polls in September.
That would be a ninefold increase on 2006, when 7,757 Emiratis - 6,595 men and 1,162 women - turned out to vote, and more than five times the legal minimum number of eligible electors, 12,000.
Addressing students at a political awareness seminar at Zayed University, Dr Gargash described 70,000 as "a big number".
He said unrest elsewhere in the region had increased the need for political participation. "See how we jumped," he said. "This is just what is expected. We did not have any pressure before, now we see other Arab countries, so [political participation] has become a priority."
However, he said changes were being planned even before the start of the Arab Spring. "Three or four years ago we came up with this step [the new electoral process] and organised for it two years ago. "But also from events happening now it [political participation] became a priority. At the end of the day you speak the same language and share the same culture [with other Arab countries] so you have to keep an open eye around you."
However, he said universal suffrage - rather than appointing electors - may not be right for the UAE. "The histories of other countries are different," he said. "We have a different perspective of the future, what is good for you is not necessarily good for me."
Asked about the worth of the FNC, Dr Gargash explained that the four-year session that ended in February had discussed 33 important issues, providing a forum for public concerns and giving feedback on government procedures.
“Society should feel it has a participation in government,” he said, “so the role of the FNC is to let people express their opinion on the laws. For instance, there were some laws that, because of the FNC’s objection to them, were modified or not passed.” He declined, however, to give examples.
Responding to suggestions that the FNC lacked power, Dr Gargash said its role was to debate pressing issues and laws before they come into effect.
“If you want to make a decision, you can consult your friend. You might just go with your decision or you might change your mind and listen to him, depending on the situation.”
That channel gave civic society room to express an opinion and play a consultative role, he added.
In days gone by, society was small and all the people were able to communicate directly with the Ruler. That, he said, was no longer practical. “The Ruler cannot take the opinion of every person, but those who represent you can discuss the laws.”
Asma Saeed, a 20-year-old student at the lecture, said it had been her first opportunity to learn about the FNC. She said there was a lack of political awareness in the UAE.