ABU DHABI // A last-minute rush of applicants yesterday brought the total of candidates who will contest 20 seats at next month's FNC elections to 477.
The number of candidates ranges from 19 in Umm Al Qaiwain to 125 in Dubai, and young people and women are particularly well represented, election officials said after the four-day registration period ended yesterday.
The high percentage of young people between the ages of 21 and 30 in the electoral college is significant, said Dr Anwar Gargash, Minister of Federal National Council Affairs, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Chairman of the National Election Committee. "Youth in all Arab countries, including the UAE, represent an important demographic," Dr Gargash said.
Candidates said increased awareness among young people and exposure to international politics had contributed to a growing interest in taking part in the elections.
Maitha Al Dossari, 34, chief operating officer of Emaar Properties, who registered in Dubai yesterday, said: "They have opened the door for the public to come in, which is very important. It's not just for people who are well known, it's open to everyone. That's a healthy part of it."
Organisers at the Abu Dhabi registration centre said most candidates were aged between 30 and 38. Ahmed Mohammed bin Humaidan, head of the Dubai Election Committee, said there had been many young people there too.
"There is a high percentage of youth, and both men and women are participating," he said.
Fatima Al Suwaidi, 47, a former school governess who registered in Abu Dhabi, said she had noticed women were more interested in electing female FNC members this year, and related that to changing views about women's roles in the country.
"Now it is more clear: the importance of women in all fields. And females can see how the Government is giving them attention," she said.
At least 15 women registered as candidates in Abu Dhabi yesterday, and there was also a high number of female candidates in Dubai.
"Women have been participating since day one and have been coming every day to register," Mr Bin Humaidan said.
"However, I believe the percentage of men is slightly higher than women."
The last-minute rush of applicants was particularly noticeable in the capital, where 49 voters arrived to register their candidacy yesterday - more than double the number on the first three days. Organisers were processing applications every five minutes, compared with every 20 or 30 minutes on previous days.
Only three candidates - two on the first day and one on the last - were turned down because they could not provide a certificate of good conduct.
Asked why yesterday's candidate was turned away, Captain Sultan Al Tinaiji, head of the fingerprints section at Abu Dhabi Police, said: "He had a black point because he was previously involved in a criminal case."
In Ajman, the emirate with the highest percentage of registered candidates as a proportion of those eligible, the only hitch came when candidates forgot to bring a letter of approval from their employers.
"We asked most of them to bring this approval paper to be registered," said Saeed Saif Al Matroushi, director of the Ajman Election Committee.
Mansour bin Nassar, director of the Sharjah Election Committee, said candidates had been co-operative with the registrars and the whole process had gone smoothly.
"There was enough awareness and all the candidates turned up with most of the required papers," he said. "In a few cases, we asked people to bring more papers or get photographs taken in a studio we had set up."
In Dubai, Mr bin Humaidan said: "Most of the nominees were satisfied with the process. From the beginning, we started with proper organisation and that will continue until the election day."
Luaya Al Naqbi, a blind man who submitted his papers in Ajman on Tuesday, said the registration process was simple and all the registrars were helpful.
"I have not had any problem in registration," he said. "Everyone seems to be willing to help here - a known spirit of Emiratis."
He said he was taking part to represent the handicapped. "When it comes to political participation, people are obsessed with female participation. What about us?"
Mohammed Ibrahim Saleh, a retired air force officer from Ajman, said he had taken part in the last election in 2006 and was registering for the second time.
"Not much has changed this year in the process of registration since 2006, apart from the increase in the number of voters," he said. "The whole process is smooth and the country's democratisation prospect is bright."
Mr Al Matroushi, director of the Ajman Election Committee, reminded applicants that they are not candidates until the official list is released. "They should consider themselves candidates only once the official approved list is issued," he said.
Objections to candidates will be considered between August 21 and 23, before the final list is announced on August 28.
Candidates will be permitted to campaign from September 4 until three days before the election, which takes place on September 24.