x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

A learning curve for national elections

The FNC election is introducing the UAE to the way campaigns work. Most of the problems have been "errors of enthusiasm" but reports of vote-buying are in a different category.

The campaign leading up to the Federal National Council (FNC) elections on September 24 is providing a valuable countrywide classroom. While the 460 candidates are learning the process and tactics of running, the 129,000-plus Emiratis who are eligible to vote are sharpening their skills to listen, assess and choose.

No matter how governance evolves in the future, it is plainly in the national interest that a sound electoral culture should gain a good foothold.

So it was disturbing to learn, via The National's Arabic-language sister paper Al Ittihad, of reports of vote-buying and of offers to sell votes. We hope the National Elections Committee (NEC) takes a speedy interest in reports of such practices.

To be sure, even the most experienced and successful of democracies have problems with electoral abuses. But in the UAE, where elections are on a learning curve, campaign problems and peculiarities so far this year have almost all seemed like beginners' mistakes, or points on a learning curve.

In the 2006 FNC election there were reports that some of the 6,595 people selected to be voters thought they had been named to actual FNC seats. That mistake seems to be behind us.

But some of this year's candidates have succumbed to the temptation to make sweeping promises. Dr Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for FNC Affairs and chairman of the NEC, has noted that candidates promise more than they can deliver in every political system. In the UAE, grandiose promises overstate what candidates can achieve, and also the role of the FNC as an advisory body. At training classes for candidates, some of them poorly attended, there was sometimes still confusion about Council members' role.

There have been some quirks, as well. In Sharjah, five candidates put their names forward, then withdrew. One hopeful in Umm Al Qaiwain kept his platform a secret until late in the campaign, for fear that his rivals will copy it. In Ajman, some candidates have been seeking out voters employed in government offices - during working hours. And so on.

Most such incidents can be seen as what sports coaches call "errors of enthusiasm". Attempts at vote-buying, if substantiated, are in a different category, and are no part of the electoral ideal.