The path towards democracy is a bumpy road for any nation. In the rapidly developing society of the UAE, the traditional structure of government has allowed for unprecedented growth, offering countless opportunities to citizens and residents. And, with the solid foundation of the country in place and the development of every aspect of society, the time came when both government and citizens felt the need to further political empowerment.
There has been a simple desire to extend a bridge between the people and their government by electing officials to address the public's wants and needs on a federal level.
On December 2, 2005 during the UAE's 34th national day celebrations, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, the President of UAE, addressed the nation about the need to increase the role of the Federal National Council. He ended his speech with this statement: "Today, we stand at a threshold of a new era, whose ultimate objective is to entrench the rule of law and due process, accountability, transparency and equal opportunity."
A year later, a historic milestone in the country's political development had been reached. The Emirati people celebrated the nation's first FNC elections.
It is fair to say that those elections did not meet the expectations of all Emiratis. Out of a population of over 800,000 citizens, only about 6,600 were permitted to vote. It was a good step towards democracy, but the elected FNC members fell short of many Emiratis' expectations in terms of delivering change. Perhaps too much was expected of those first elected members during the initial stages. Nevertheless, many people felt that pressing issues were not addressed and transparency and accountability were lacking.
As 2011 came around, many Emiratis were not exactly bursting with enthusiasm over these FNC elections. Yet, as the news arrived that the number of voters would increase to almost 130,000, hope began to return. To many people's surprise, candidates launched impressive and informative campaigns with advertisements, public debates and visits to communities and families across the country.
The 2011 elections became a clear sign that the government was continuing with its commitment towards establishing democratic institutions in the UAE. The dramatic increase in the number of voters was enough to indicate to many Emiratis that their voices would be heard and their opinions represented by elected members of the FNC. These developments have led to a popular belief that within the next decade, every citizen will be enfranchised and the entire Council will be elected, rather than just half of the members.
On the other hand, some people are still sceptical. One of the reasons was recently addressed in a public discussion regarding the selection process of voters. Another doubt expressed by sceptics was that there are only 20 elected members in a Council of 40, which limits the effect they can have on changing government policies.
There are also those who doubt the overall effectiveness of the FNC and its authority to shape policies. But this is mainly based on a lack of understanding about the UAE's political history. Since the Council's formation in 1971, members appointed by each emirate took part in countless discussions and debates with government on crucial issues, laws and decrees that have led to the development of our great nation.
The FNC members of previous councils were selected from the country's intellectual elite to represent Emirati public opinion. Their meetings with government took place on a weekly basis; many serving ministers were called upon to discuss their performance and were subjected to aggressive scrutiny of shortcomings in their respective fields.
A historic moment also worth mentioning took place in the early years of the country when, for the first time in the UAE's political history, FNC members and government authorities worked side by side to draft a proposal submitted to the Supreme Court to map the political future of the country. In short, the development of the FNC has been based on an accumulation of members' political experience. And those members have proven, many times over, their capability in contributing to the development of the UAE.
Now it is on the shoulders of these FNC members elected yesterday to take up the mantle of their predecessors and further contribute to the development of the country. The Emirati people have already raised many issues that need to be tackled.
The country and citizens of the UAE have once again placed their hopes in the elected members to maximise their influence through the powers that have been given them. And most importantly, after an engaging campaign process, it is crucial that elected members continue to spend ample time in the field, seeking to understand the wants and needs of Emiratis across the country. By that direct engagement, members can honour this faith that the Emirati people have invested in them.
Taryam Al Subaihi is an Emirati political and social commentator who specialises in corporate communications