x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Civic awareness is crucial to the FNC's mission

September elections for the Federal National Council will include 70,000 voters, greatly expanding the number of citizens who are actively involved in the electoral process.

Forty years after the Federal National Council (FNC) held its first session and five years after the first elected members, the representative body is in the process of transformation. As The National reports today, Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for FNC Affairs, has announced that about 70,000 citizens are expected to vote in September elections - expanding the electoral roll by a factor of 10 compared to the last elections.

Dr Gargash acknowledged that the decision to expand participation was made with an awareness of political events across the region, but emphasised that plans predated the Arab Spring. "Three or four years ago we came up with this step and organised for it two years ago," he said."But also from events happening now it became a priority."

The Council is a crucial venue for public debate and people should be encouraged to participate. It is a truism in parliamentary work that members should step out of their ivory towers and identify their constituents' needs and concerns. To that end, it has been suggested that FNC sessions should be televised to demonstrate transparency.

But engagement requires more than mere awareness campaigns. The reputation of the FNC depends on its effectiveness. At present, the Council is empowered only to debate an issue and propose or object to certain points, not to amend or modify a law. Nonetheless, Dr Gargash said, the Council has had a concrete influence on legislation.

Part of the project of political evolution will be the communication process among the Cabinet, FNC members and citizens. Proposals presented by the Council should be taken seriously and, if dismissed, members should be informed of the reasons.

"What we have done in the UAE in the last 40 years has been a successful indicator," Dr Gargash said, "to show that it is extremely important to maintain political modernisation and maintain stability".

Regardless of the framework of the political institutions, the strength of the society will depend on citizens' active participation in civic life. In the past this was carried out in the context of tribal relationships and the majlis.

In an increasingly complex society, the same personal relationships are not always possible. As the UAE grows and develops, it will increasingly be representative bodies that maintain the relationship between citizens and the state.