DUBAI // Federal National Council members are expected to hear today the Government's response to a question many have repeatedly asked: what are the next steps in the political empowerment process? The question was lodged by Sultan Saqr al Suweidi, a member of the advisory body from Dubai, a few months ago. He submitted a similar question last year to Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for FNC Affairs, about the government's plans for elections. But Dr Gargash told him in a letter last summer that the matter was in the hands of the country's leadership.
Members of the 40-member federal council have complained on several occasions about the Government's ambiguity about its plans for the council when its term expires next February. Half of the council members were elected in 2006 in the country's first elections. The voting was limited to an electoral college of 6,689 UAE citizens, including 1,189 women. This group accounted for 0.88 per cent of the population.
Since political reform is decreed only by the nation's Supreme Council it is likely that Mr al Suweidi will today hear a similar answer to that given last summer. But Mr al Suweidi does not expect Dr Gargash to give him a response on what has been decided, but rather on whether his ministry has suggested any reforms to the nation's leadership through the Cabinet. One of the ministry's roles is to suggest legislation pertaining to the FNC.
Although the majority of the council members are in favour of gradual reform - a process introduced by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE, in December 2005 - many have raised questions about its pace. It is time, they say, to introduce the next step, which could involve increasing the number of the council members to match the population increase during the past 38 years, increasing the size of the appointed electorate or giving the council more legislative powers that, for instance, make their recommendations binding.