x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Elections mark a new chapter for FNC's role

In every emirate yesterday, citizens took another step in a political experiment, casting ballots for the latest iteration of the FNC. In some ways yesterday ended a learning process. But in others, the learning process is still ongoing.

Abdulnaser Al Rashedi was one of at least of 20 voters waiting impatiently at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (Adnec) before the polling station opened at 8am yesterday. And throughout the course of the day, reports continued of Emiratis gathered at the polls with a sense of enthusiasm; an elderly Emirati man, also at Adnec, said he had come to boost morale even though he was not eligible to vote.

In every emirate yesterday, citizens took another step in this political experiment. The extension of the vote in these elections to almost 130,000 voters has set a benchmark for political participation farther than it has been before. And, in a sense, yesterday ended a learning process of campaigning and the electoral process.

There were some hiccups. Voting machines in Al Ain malfunctioned; false rumours about candidates withdrawing spread on social media. As during the campaign, the experience has shown that the UAE's elections are subject to the same glitches that trouble elections the world over.

It was clear yesterday that voters took their role seriously, and chose their candidates based on their own considerations. The gender balance was a priority for some; the platforms and promises of candidates, and judgements of their capabilities, swayed others; and a few at the polls said they had voted, at least in part, along the lines of family and tribe.

And in a sense, this is the beginning of another process. The energy generated by the campaigns and election day carries on. This term of the FNC will be watched more closely when it opens its doors in the third week of October. Voters who have carefully weighed the interests of the country in their choices of candidates have a greater stake in the advisory and watchdog role of the FNC.

And that is where the newly elected members have a special responsibility. As our columnist Taryam Al Subaihi writes on the facing page: "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."

The enthusiasm felt at the polling stations yesterday was reminiscent of the National Day celebrations, a day of shared patriotism and community across the country. Many voters have said that they have learnt a great deal about the FNC and its role in recent months. When the new term opens, that engagement must continue.