Last year's Federal National Council elections were certainly well advertised: candidates spent a total of Dh54.7 million promoting themselves and their ideas across the seven emirates. Unfortunately, it seems that much of that advertising was at best targeting the wrong audience, and at worst wasted.
As The National reported yesterday, turnout for the September polls was well below official predictions, and especially low among women and young people. Nationwide, only 19 per cent of eligible women and 24 percent of youths cast ballots. Overall, just 28 per cent of the 130,000 eligible voters participated. In 2006 turnout was 70 per cent.
Voter apathy in the bigger emirates was the clearest and most troubling trend. Umm Al Quwain, with the lowest outlay of Dh1.4m on ads, recorded the highest turnout of 54.7 per cent. Abu Dhabi, the emirate with the biggest expenditure, Dh27,579,546, had the lowest turnout. These figures raise serious questions not only about the issues that the candidates were prepared to tackle, but the extent that their messages were getting through to the electorate.
Representation is not limited to posters and radio spots. It's entails connecting to the public in ways money cannot buy. That is precisely why FNC members have to take a more active approach if these failures are to be rectified in the future.
For a start, the only way to encourage more Emirati women to vote is ensuring issues important to them remain at the top of the agenda. For example, many women still harbour concerns about their place in the work force and the availability of quality jobs.
There is also a danger that the country's youth are being left out of the political process. Many remain unaware of the function of the FNC, or more importantly, how its role can affect their lives. In that respect, school and university awareness programmes could help engage future voters from a young age. Curriculum built around the FNC process, and frequent field trips to FNC sessions, could inspire tomorrow's young leaders today.
The FNC must be given time to develop into an efficient legislative and advisory vehicle. But with a clearer understanding of where deficiencies lie, there is no excuse for members not to tackle them, with or without a large budget.