DUBAI // Latifa Al Shamsi was the first woman to vote at the Dubai World Trade Centre yesterday.
"I came to vote because it is a national duty and because my sister is one of the candidates,” said Ms Al Shamsi, 24, a businesswoman, who also voted for one of her cousins.
"I only voted for these two. I did not want to give my voice for others.”
Dozens of enthusiastic voters competed to be among the first to vote, gathering outside the trade centre polling station before 8am.
The centre opened to the public at 8.30am after candidates had voted.
Faisal Falaknaz, 24, a business analyst, voted for people he knew, “as I would be able to reach them in the future.
“I came here today to respond through my vote to all of those who are doubting the strength of the Federal National Council and those who say it is not important as it does not have legislative power.
“This is the first step towards change and I have great faith in the Federal National Council.”
Candidates were pleased with the turnout, which was about 300 voters in the first hour.
“I am optimistic that things will go well today as many seem to understand that voting is a national duty and I hope I will get many votes,” said Ahmed Ibrahim bin Fares, 45, one of the first candidates to cast his ballot.
Mr bin Fares has promised, if elected, to work on a human resources law for the federal government.
“I tried to reach friends and relatives in the first hand and I only spent Dh150,000,” he said of his campaign tactics.
Three hours into voting, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, visited the polling station and spoke to media gathered there.
Sheikh Mohammed said the opinion of the majority mattered because it was usually the right one.
Asked when more Emiratis would be allowed to vote, he said the process was day to day: “We are gradually working towards that.”
While some countries had embarked on their democratic experiments earlier than the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed said some had experienced backlashes.
As the day went on, some voters struggled with the voting process.
“I had a problem with printing the vote but the staff were helpful and solved the problem within five minutes,” said Yousef Abdul Al Wahab, 52, a government employee.
In a tweet issued by the Dubai Media Office, the emirate’s deputy police chief noted: “We didn’t notice any irregularities during the election.”
Afra Al Basti, the director of the polling centres in Dubai, said some voters did not know how to use the computers.
“Some of them voted blank as a consequence,” Mrs Al Basti said, and others voted for the wrong candidate by mistake.
“Some voters entered the wrong candidate as they pressed the name below or above the candidate they wanted to vote for, but they asked for help and we helped them correct the mistakes.”
Sound & Vision: FNC election coverage
Mrs Al Basti said wrong entries could be changed so long as the ballot had not been printed.
“Some are so enthusiastic that they got carried away and did it too quickly,” she said.
Some candidates had been caught trying to campaign on the premises but were stopped immediately,” Mrs Al Basti said.
“We directed 30 of our staff members to spot such practices and stop them,” she said.
Dr Saeed Al Ghafli, a member of the National Election Committee, said he had seen no sign of vote-buying.
Reem Ali Beljafla, 26, voted for two members of her family – her sister Hind and her cousin Saleh Beljafla.
“She is a good example of a hard-working female … and is holding her country’s name high,” Ms Beljafla said. “Her name has reached internationally, such as in London Fashion Week.
“You will see these youth who are educated. These are the candidates you want to vote for and support.
“Whether they win or not, they are brave to have taken such steps as they represent the new generation.”
Another candidate wished to keep his vote private but said he voted for those who reflected his concerns.
“I think it’s a wonderful process where there is an element of community development through engagement,” said Rashid bin Shabib, 28, the owner of Brownbook magazine.
“Not only are the Emirates building soft and hard infrastructure, but it is also building a moral infrastructure and building a society that is involved in decision-making.”