x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Listen to voters as FNC prepares for new mandate

Voters who make up the expanded electorate for September's vote for 20 Federal National Council members appear ready to give the process the serious attention it deserves

The 129,000 Emiratis eligible to vote for members of the UAE's next Federal National Council (FNC) are moving up a steep learning curve leading to election day on September 24.

The FNC is not a legislature, but it is evolving as an advisory body. The 20 election winners, along with 20 members selected by the Rulers of the separate emirates, will be able to present their ideas to the UAE's highest decision-makers, in what is in some ways a modern form of the traditional majlis.

There is good reason for the voters to take this seriously. A high level of civic participation - electors who take the time to listen and who actually cast their votes - is the best guarantee that the FNC will have capable, diligent members ready and able to reflect public concerns.

In the coming days the National Election Commission will be holding public meetings across the country to explain this process to Emiratis. This process of civic engagement is crucial.

For the long-term political project, the FNC and the candidates have to reflect the aspirations of the citizens. Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for FNC Affairs, has said he expects a "more mature" campaign than in 2006, when some candidates made promises far beyond the FNC's powers.

Voters are taking their responsibilities seriously and thinking deeply about the issues. They are looking for a serious commitment from their representatives, if we can judge by the comments that eligible citizens have made to The National since the voters' list was announced.

"I will look for someone who will listen to the people and [who] knows what are the issues … [and] who has a background on how to solve these issues," said Amira Abdulaal Ali Al Najjar, 27, who will vote in Sharjah.

Others who spoke to The National said they will vote on the basis of competence and ideas. One promised to ignore tribal affiliation. Subject areas mentioned frequently included education, health, urban planning, heritage management, and the needs of children, youths and women. Some mentioned Emiratisation. Abdullah Ahmed Hassan Ali of Dubai was among those who said members should be accessible and "close to the people".

Voters have a good grasp of the role and value of the FNC. That is a solid start toward wise choices.