Abu Dhabi // FNC members are concerned the Government has not yet announced plans to hold elections when the partially elected body's term runs out early next year. Half of the 40-seat council, which was created in 1972, was selected by a caucus of 6,689 citizens in the country's first elections in 2006. The other 20 members were appointed by the Government.
The council's original two-year term was extended by two years in 2008, but since then the Government has not said when - or if - new elections would be held. "Will the same process of having a [half-elected] council be repeated?" asked Abdul Raheem Shaheen, a member from Ras al Khaimah known for his staunch support for the strengthening of federal bodies. "Will the term end without introducing a new council? If elections are held, will we see an increase in the number of voters?
"Nothing is happening. Nobody knows." Dr Shaheen and other members said their uncertainty was being fuelled by the fact the Government has not issued an electoral law. The first elections in 2006 were guided by an official framework. "There should be a law that stipulates how elections would go," said Ali Jasem, a member from Umm al Qaiwain and the longest-serving councillor. "If there is a law out there, it should be presented to the council. But if the Government is going to pass a law while the council is in break time, that's a different matter."
Most new laws are discussed by the FNC before they are approved by the President. In some cases, mainly when the council has been on its summer break, laws have been enacted without the approval of the advisory body, irking many of its members. Mr Jasem speculated that the Government would extend the term of the council for a few months if plans for choosing new councillors are not prepared in time. He insisted that such an extension should be governed by a law.
Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for FNC Affairs, said last year that the Government was preparing an elections law, according to Mr Jasem. However, no government officials were available to comment on the issue this week. One representative, who asked not to be named, criticised his fellow members for allowing the uncertainty to continue. "No one is asking, no one is insisting," he said. However, he added that he was sure the country's leadership would press on with further reforms. "Once you've started a process, you can't pull the plug on it."
After the first election in 2006, the Supreme Council, which is comprised of the Rulers of the seven emirates, amended the Constitution to extend the council's term to four years from two and give its members the right to discuss foreign treaties should the President ask them to do so. The constitutional changes were welcomed by the council members, but many of them said that more reforms were needed.
Abdul Aziz al Ghurair, the FNC Speaker, has repeatedly urged the Government to grant the council powers to hold officials accountable and take measures to ensure their recommendations are acted upon. Council members have also called for what they have come to refer to as "real parliamentary powers". Mr al Ghurair has been an advocate of "gradation" in political reform, but believes the wheel of change is turning too slowly.
"I think the UAE is ready for democracy," said Dr Raheem. "Democracy resembles swimming, you can't learn to swim if I don't throw you into the water [because] only then you'll learn how to swim. "You can't say people are not ready. The preamble of the Constitution states the establishment of democratic governance. Four decades later, we have states that have started after we did and they're ahead of us."
Mr Jasem, however, does not believe the country is ready for dramatic change. "The Emirati society is not politically mature yet," he said. "People still don't understand the political process or the role of the federal council. "The intellectuals say that we've reached political maturity, but I think the majority are not there yet." Mr al Ghurarir said in 2008 that the council would launch an awareness campaign to inform people about the role of the FNC, but no major initiatives have so far been launched.