AL AIN // A high turnout in this month's FNC elections will improve the case for the council to be given greater powers, the chairman of the National Election Committee says.
Dr Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Minister of State for FNC Affairs and chairman of the NEC, said the only way to move forward from the current "experience" was to encourage as many as possible to vote in the polls on September 24.
"The participation of the electoral college members in the elections is a national duty towards further empowering the Federal National Council," Dr Gargash said in an address to candidates in Al Ain.
"Participation sends the message to … Sheikh Khalifa [President of the UAE] that … people are aware that we are in the first steps in this programme and we want to develop this programme."
One candidate, Dr Moza Ghobash, asked Dr Gargash why universal suffrage had not been considered, and on what basis eligibility to vote had been made.
"We want all nationals to vote next time," Dr Ghobash said. "It is embarrassing for some [senior officials] not to be on the list. A lot of people were upset."
Dr Gargash said he sympathised, but stressed this year's electoral register represented a major leap since the last elections in 2006.
Then, only 2.3 per cent of Emiratis, or 6,595 people, were eligible to vote, compared with this year's estimate of more than 30 per cent. But the turnout last time was high, at 74.4 per cent.
The lowest turnout was in Abu Dhabi, where 60 per cent of those eligible to vote did. Ras Al Khaimah showed the greatest enthusiasm, with more than 90 per cent of those entitled to vote turning out.
Dr Gargash said he hoped for a high turnout this year and encouraged candidates to get as many voters out as possible through continued interaction with them - especially with young voters using social-media networks.
"What we realised this year is the increase in using social media," he said. "Now an army of nationals are using Facebook, webpages, Twitter - especially youth.
"I believe these are important tools. I hope all candidates use these … they are not complicated. I learnt how to use Twitter two weeks ago. If I can learn it, anyone can."
But social media alone would not be enough.
"It is only one tool for a successful candidate. It has to also be merged to his ability to articulate his thoughts," Dr Gargash said.
He will give another lecture tonight at 6.30pm at the National Theatre in Abu Dhabi.
"There are a lot of questions on people's minds that are not necessarily technical or logistical questions," Dr Gargash said. "They want to know more what is the purpose of the programme, what is the future of the programme, and so on."
He said it was also a good opportunity to "understand what is on people's minds".
"It's a chance for us also to explain some of the rationale behind some of the decisions we are taking in organising these events.
"Elections are a relatively new phenomenon in the UAE, so many, many people have their queries about various aspects and I think … it is our job to increase awareness."