ABU DHABI // Committees to manage FNC elections in each emirate are expected to be operational soon, with one of their first duties assisting the National Electoral Commission in its work of naming citizens to the electoral colleges in preparation for elections expected in September.
Election committees will co-ordinate with the courts of the rulers in each emirate in announcing the members of the electoral colleges, which will vote for members of the FNC.
The committees' other duties include receiving the final list of citizens allowed to vote for FNC candidates in each emirate and informing them that they have been chosen; working with police on security issues for the elections; and co-ordinating with the municipalities over matters such as correct advertising procedures for candidates and the locations of polling booths.
Each emirate will select at least the minimum number of citizens determined by law. There is no preset maximum.
The minimum number of citizens allowed to vote for FNC members was expanded last month to 300 times the number of council representatives each emirate has.
Fujairah, for example, which has four FNC members, must grant the right to vote to at least 1,200 of its citizens; it can give that right to more if it chooses.
Individual emirates did exceed the minimum franchise in the last election, though the numbers varied. Fujairah named 418 members to its electoral college, just over the minimum of 400, while Abu Dhabi had about 1,800, more than double the minimum 800.
An online petition last week signed by 133 Emiratis called for direct and universal election of all FNC members.
Last month's tripling of the minimum number of voters in FNC elections to 12,000 Emiratis, out of a population approaching a million, prompted some FNC members to say the voting pool should have been larger.
Individual emirates "should give all citizens" the right to vote because every Emirati should be able to pick his representative in the FNC, said Yousef al Neaimi, a former high-ranking council member from Ras al Khaimah who was a member of the finance and the legislative affairs committees.
He said the country should not simply repeat the experience of the first election. It was necessary to have "positive, speedy gradual change" rather than slow, gradual change, he argued.
However, critics of universal suffrage said there was a lack of interest, and a lack of an election culture, among Emiratis. They said Emiratis generally support the Government's programme of a gradual expansion of the electoral base.
Gamal al Hai, a former FNC member from Dubai, said he shared the Government view of the election system. "We did pilot elections four years ago and it worked," he said. "We are heading in the right direction, and it will become better in future years."
Ahmed al Dhaheri, an FNC member from Abu Dhabi, predicted that all citizens would eventually have the right to vote.
"This is the Government's direction - to increase involvement in the FNC through stages, until all citizens are able to vote," he said. "If you read history, it was the same in other countries. The main reason for this is because we want more people to be politically aware. When you vote, you have a responsibility."
Mr al Dhaheri said the minimum number who could vote had increased so that more people could vote in all emirates. "The ceiling is open so that more people vote."
However, other former FNC members said expanding the electoral base should be accompanied by broader legislative powers so that elected members could try to fulfil their election promises.
The debate comes amid longtsanding calls by FNC members for for the consultative body to have broader authority.
"If all the citizens of the UAE vote, you still have a council without any powers," said Mr al Neaimi. "Without powers for the council, the number of voters means nothing."
So far, the only powers vested in the FNC were the extension of its term from two to four years, and its ability to examine international treaties, said Sultan al Suwaidi, a former FNC committee chairman from Dubai. To be a truly legislative body, he said, it must be able to initiate and draft legislation.
Mr al Suwaidi also said the FNC should be allowed to debate any topic without seeking permission from the Government. "These are two important steps forward."
Half the members of the FNC are appointed by the rulers; the other half are elected by an electoral college whose members are picked by each emirate. "For half the members, elections should be opened up," Mr al Suwaidi said.
Mr al Neaimi said that even the elected members were considered appointed, because the members of the electoral college were still appointed by each emirate. "They are the choice of the Government, not of the people," he said.
"We should expand the circle," Mr al Suwaidi said, and the emirates should either enlarge the electoral base or grant the right to vote to all Emiratis. "It could happen through the emirates, not necessarily through a federal decision."
Ali Jasem, one of the FNC's two former deputy speakers and a long time proponent of universal suffrage, said he believed that allowing all Emiratis to vote would help to spread political awareness. He said citizens had shown their desire to participate in elections in local chambers of commerce, sports clubs and civil institutions.
"The more people vote, the more politically aware they will be," he said. "We represent the public, so they need to be aware."