ABU DHABI // As campaigning for the Federal National Council gets under way today, social media looks set to play as big a role as traditional forms of canvassing.
Four hundred and sixty eight Emiratis have put their names forward to the National Election Committee as candidates for the 20 seats, which cover the seven emirates. An additional 20 seats will be appointed by the Rulers' courts after the elections.
One candidate, Mansour Al Faheem, plans to mix the old with the new to reach out to all parts of society. He will be tweeting his campaign messages as well as personally answering emails sent to his dedicated website, which launches today.
"It's the age of the computer," he said. "Everybody looks at social media to express some of their views." Voters will be able to follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
Pitted against 116 other candidates in Abu Dhabi emirate, Mr Al Faheem said he would also host a majlis with open discussions so he could talk to potential voters.
"Part of the campaign is to reach out and find voters and sit and discuss the campaign with them. If people can't come to my majlis, they can look at my website and contact me that way," he said.
Mr Al Faheem will have posters around the capital but expects to be outspent by other candidates. The maximum allowed spending is Dh2 million.
"Social media is more effective than posters," he said. "If I talk to them, there's interaction."
Rashad Al Bukhash in Dubai plans to hit the ground running. He has taken out advertisements in today's newspapers and will also launch his website and push his Twitter and Facebook pages.
He will be emailing voters as well as sending text messages. "The most important one is to call people," he said.
To cover the 37,000 potential voters in Dubai, he said he would have to make more than 200 calls a day. "In a few days, I will do some interviews in the newspapers, hold a seminar where I will talk about my campaign and I will also publish a booklet," he said.
Social network sites, he said, were important but meeting and greeting the voters was still the most important and effective method of campaigning.
"More than half of the people on the list are over 40," he said. "I suspect they will not be into Facebook so I will have to contact them myself."
Tareq Hilal Lootah, the undersecretary at the Ministry for FNC Affairs and a member of the National Election Committee, said the campaigns were important but the rules had to be abided by.
Among the guidelines, campaigns are not allowed to use any religious, sectarian, tribal or racial divisions to encourage votes.
Candidates have been briefed on what they may and may not do and the possible penalties for not abiding by the rules.
"The NEC has organised several informative seminars for different sections of society," Mr Lootah said. The seminars explained how candidates could use the campaigns to promote their credentials while maintaining respect for competitors and the community.
Candidates are expected to submit any media plans for approval before campaigning.
Mr Al Bukhash has submitted his plan and received approval; Mr Al Faheem has submitted and is awaiting approval.
Dubai has the highest number of candidates, at 124, followed by Abu Dhabi at 117. Candidates in each of those emirates are campaigning to win one of four available seats in each emirate.
Sharjah has 93 candidates, and Ras Al Khaimah 60. Each of those emirates will elect three candidates.
Ajman, Fujairah and Umm Al Qaiwain have 34, 21 and 19 candidates respectively, in each case competing for two seats.
Voting will be on Saturday, September 24 and the results should be announced four days later.
* With additional reporting by Manal Ismail