ABU DHABI // The expansion of the electoral base and the increase in the number of women eligible to vote are "a very important step" towards democracy, a British minister said yesterday after meeting the chairman of the National Election Committee.
Alistair Burt, the British minister responsible for the Middle East and South Asia, encouraged those who are eligible to vote to participate in the September 24 election.
Mr Burt was touring a Royal Navy minehunter ship docked at Port Zayed shortly after his meeting with Dr Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Minister of State for FNC Affairs and chairman of the NEC.
"These are significant steps to be taken," Mr Burt said. "Certainly as a fellow democrat, I would encourage people to vote, to take the opportunity when they have the chance to do so."
The number of eligible voters rose from 6,595, or 2.3 per cent of Emiratis, in 2006 to 129,274, more than 30 per cent, this year. That includes 59,991 women who are eligible to take part, 46 per cent of the electorate. The number of female FNC candidates has risen to 85 this year from 63. "The increase in the electoral college is a very substantial proportion," Mr Burt said.
He also met with Ali Al Shamsi, the UAE's special envoy to Afghanistan, to discuss the role of the UAE Armed Forces. Mr Burt said that during his two-day stay in the Emirates he watched the documentary Mission: Winds of Goodness, which tracks the UAE's contributions from the perspective of troops on the ground in Afghanistan.
"What Emirati forces are doing on the ground in terms of development in Afghanistan ... dovetailed very much with what United Kingdom forces were doing," he said. "It is a very important year of political change there, and security issues remain very important, so certainly it was important to have a conversation about prospects in Afghanistan."
Mr Burt also spoke at the British Consulate in Dubai about the UAE's greater prominence in regional affairs, saying the country played a pivotal role by supporting the UN resolution for a no-fly zone to protect civilians in Libya.
His visit to HMS Pembroke was the first time he had been on a minehunter. The vessel is based in Bahrain but was docked for part of this week at Port Zayed.
"As the recent conflict in Libya has shown, there is a risk of mines being found at any time there is a conflict," he said, referring to Nato's interception of pro-Qaddafi forces laying mines in the harbour there. "There are 250,000 sea mines knocking around the world, which is a worrying total."
Martyn Mayger, a sub-lieutenant in the Royal Navy and navigating officer of HMS Pembroke who helped lead the tour, said it was an opportunity to give Mr Burt an appreciation of what the crew does in the region.
"It is good for him to see how training in the waters here in the Gulf helps prepare us, and to show what we could do if called upon," he said.