x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Message is key for FNC candidates on the campaign trail

Campaigners for Federal National Council seats have a responsibility to offer the voters their views on the future evolution of the FNC.

Less than two weeks now remain before the Federal National Council elections, and the candidates and their supporters are stepping up efforts to convince the electors.

It's a fascinating process, and I wish that my Arabic were sufficiently good for me to be able to observe some of the campaigning. But having had personal, hands-on experience of working in most general elections in Britain over the past 40 years, I can still draw some comparisons.

Some techniques cannot be transferred, of course. Door-to-door canvassing or the hand delivery of campaign fliers is unworkable unless every house has a voter. I suspect that cold calling on the telephone wouldn't go down too well, either.

Perhaps, though, I can offer a few thoughts.

First, the media, here and overseas, have paid considerable attention to the way in which social media - Twitter and Facebook, for instance - are being used. That's understandable; social media has been given great credit for mobilising public opinion elsewhere in the Arab world since the beginning of this year, albeit in very different circumstances.

However, as important as new media may be, especially to an electorate that is as technologically savvy as the UAE's, it has always been my experience that personal contact, from the candidate and his supporters, can play a vital role in convincing people. Even if a candidate meets only a few dozen potential voters, others will soon hear that they have taken the time to meet some electors.

Another idea, opening up a special majlis - which I see some candidates have adopted - is also a good idea, while the creation of dedicated teams to reach out to male and female voters separately might well yield results. Posters on lamp-posts are not enough.

It's important too, especially in an election where people are running as individuals rather than as members of a team, to enunciate a clear message of what they would try to accomplish if elected. One must identify the issues of concern to the Emirati population at large, and then put forward realistic ideas of how these goals can be addressed. I'd recommend that candidates not make promises that obviously cannot be achieved.

The Government has made it quite clear that the process of political evolution of the FNC is likely to continue. Candidates should explain their views on what that might involve.

The list of questions that candidates can help answer is long:

How will those elected seek to earn for the FNC greater acceptance as a body that is equipped to perform a wider range of functions, in originating as well as examining proposed legislation?

How will they work with the other organs of Government to promote the greater degree of debate that seems to be generally accepted as a desirable objective?

How do candidates propose to establish and maintain a continuing relationship not just with the voters of today, but with those of tomorrow, who may well be even greater in number?

Do they advocate the institution of regular report-back meetings, (constituency surgeries as we call them in Britain), where they explain to the electorate what they have been doing and why?

And finally, after election day, will we see them or hear from them before the next elections, when they will come back to the electorate to ask for a renewed mandate?

In my view, this election is not only about promoting a greater engagement by Emiratis in the political process, important though that is. It is also about providing an opportunity whereby the new FNC and its members, whether elected or appointed, can show both the people and the Government that they are ready and able to take upon themselves the enormous responsibility of playing an active role in the administration of the state.

When I first knocked on doors in a British general election back in 1970, most candidates were standing because they had a real desire to serve. Sadly, in the years since then, more and more candidates have quite clearly seen political life as a career, of value to themselves rather than to the public at large.

I hope that those putting themselves before the electorate on September 24 do so with public service in mind rather than personal ambition - although ambition of course, has its place. The need to prove the efficacy of greater public participation in the political process is a burden that will, or should, lie heavily on the shoulders of those who are chosen.


Peter Hellyer is a consultant specialising in the UAE's culture and heritage