The election season for the UAE's Federal National Council has begun. Now the onus is on Emiratis, candidates and voters alike, to exercise a right many people in the region are still striving for.
As The National reported yesterday, 129 candidates signed up to run in the first day of registration on Sunday. "Work so far is good," said Dr Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Federal National Council Affairs and the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, and chairman of the National Election Commission. "The numbers are encouraging."
It is still early days in the registration process for candidates, of whom 20 will ultimately win office (another 20 will be appointed). In the weeks ahead a growing number of candidates will call on the nation's voters to see them into office.
But their job, as much as talking up their own credentials and ideas to voters, will be to sell the value and importance of the FNC itself.
A massive expansion of the electoral college took place this year, with the number of voters rising from 6,595 in 2006 to 129,274 today. There is a will on the part of the Government to boost political participation of Emiratis but, as we have reported in our pages before,too many Emiratis don't have a clear idea of the significance of the FNC and its role. Put simply, many don't see the point in casting a ballot.
Dr Gargash and his colleagues have given dozens of lectures this year to spread awareness of the advisory council; we can only hope that these efforts are resonating with the electorate. A democratic process can succeed only when the public participates.
Here is where candidates can play a major role. Candidates should point out in their lectures, banners and media campaigns that the FNC is one of the key bodies that speaks on the public's behalf. While the FNC has no legislative powers, it does have the ear of the nation's leaders. It would therefore not be a stretch to call the FNC a modern-day majlis, and we all understand how important such bodies have been in the nation's history.
In the elections in 2006, many voters believed that if their name was on the list of voters, they were automatically members of the FNC. Voters must be more aware of the process this time.