ABU DHABI // Abdul Aziz al Ghurair, the Speaker of the Federal National Council who led the first elected assembly in the nation's history, said he has no ambition to serve a second term. The incumbent term of the FNC, an advisory body to the government with some parliamentary powers, expires on February 12, 2011. No information has been disclosed about a date for new elections or possible changes in the electoral system.
"There are human cadres in the Emirates that can come to the national council - and improve it," Mr al Ghurair said on Saturday en route from Kampala, where he attended an Islamic parliamentary conference. "New persons should be allowed to come so that they can develop the [council's] work. There are many people who can come and do better. Let someone else come." Half of the 40-member council was elected in 2006 by a hand-picked electorate of 6,689 citizens, including more than one thousand women. The other 20 were appointed by the rulers of the seven emirates; before 2006, all members were appointed.
Led by Mr al Ghurair, members of the current council have spoken openly about the need to vest the FNC with "real" parliamentary powers, including the right to hold government officials accountable. The FNC has also pushed for widening the electorate, doubling the number of members to reflect the population increase and electing the whole council. "There is still enough time" to make changes before the term expires, said Mr al Ghurair, a businessman from Dubai who was appointed in 2006 and then chosen as Speaker by council members when they took their seats in 2007.
"There are solutions without a doubt," he said. "I am sure the Government has suggestions. I am positive that the Emirates is moving in the right direction." In December 2008, the Supreme Council, made up of the rulers of the seven emirates, introduced a constitutional amendment that extended the term of the FNC from two to four years. The reform also gave the representatives the right to discuss international treaties should the president ask them to do so. Previously, the Government would inform the FNC of treaties and agreements after it had already signed them.
Members of the council hope more changes can be made before the end of the term. Observers have long supported further constitutional reforms. Mohammed al Hammadi, a columnist for the Ittihad newspaper who reported on the FNC for five years until 2002, argued in a book about democracy in the Emirates that the council's constitution undermined its ability to be an effective parliamentary body. "I noticed that the council was trying to do something but couldn't for numerous reasons," he wrote in the book. "One of them is the constitution and the council's bylaws, which limit its role and powers, and the other is that all of the members were appointed, which meant that some of them were very pacifist in the parliament chamber - which negatively affected those enthusiastic about parliamentary work."
The FNC, which was formed in 1972, is treated as a parliament by international parliamentary bodies. The council is a member of the International Parliamentary Union, the Parliamentary Union of the Organisation of Islamic Conference Member States, the Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Provisional Arab Parliament. Members of the FNC also represent the nation at international conferences, such as last week's meeting of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in Geneva.
But council members, despite their call for greater powers, adhere to the fact that the FNC is an advisory body. On more than one occasion, Mr al Ghurair has used the word "wishes' to describe the council's recommendations on issues such as health, education, social welfare, security and transportation. This has led to a number of appeals by the FNC to the Government to pay heed to their re commendations. The Cabinet has approved some and rejected others.
Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for FNC Affairs, has urged the members to draft more precise and applicable recommendations. A similar call was made by the longest-serving member of the council, Ali Jasem of Umm al Quiwain. Mr Jasem has been highly critical of the current council. He said the council had left no "tangible things that we can see on the ground, that can serve our citizens". But other members, including Mohammed al Zaabi, a member from Sharjah, said it was not right for the members to evaluate the work of the council because of their direct involvement. He added, however, that he was "satisfied" with the achievements of the current council.
"You have to evaluate the work as a whole," he said yesterday. "Not only the sessions but the work at the international level." email@example.com