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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 November 2018

Voting is a privilege that I intend to exercise wisely

Fatima Al Shamsi shares her excitement about voting in the Federal National Council elections for the first time
 An elderly man leaves on a complimentary trolley after casting his vote during the last day of early voting at the FNC polling stations at Dubai World Trade Centre. Sarah Dea / The National
An elderly man leaves on a complimentary trolley after casting his vote during the last day of early voting at the FNC polling stations at Dubai World Trade Centre. Sarah Dea / The National

Tomorrow, the UAE goes to the polls for the third time. Members of the Electoral College, about one-third of Emiratis, have been given the privilege of casting their votes for candidates who they believe can represent their concerns in the Federal National Council.

More than 300 candidates are vying to win 20 seats. This suggests that the culture of voting is gaining traction as a crucial part of the system of governance. Early voting has been available, including for Emiratis living in 94 countries around the world. This not only suggests increased participation by Emiratis taking an interest in voting but also that the Government has taken concrete steps to make the process easier.

In my excitement at being afforded the privilege for the first time, I have spent much of the past few weeks asking my peers about their experiences in previous elections.

To my disappointment, many were either indifferent to or unmotivated by the prospect of voting. This is clearly demonstrated by the fact that voter turnout in the previous election was reported to be a meagre 28 per cent of eligible voters. The main reason I found for this is that many people are still unaware of the impact that the FNC can have on their lives.

The tradition of voting is still very new and it is something that needs to be instilled in members of society at a young age.

We need this to be part of school curriculums, so that when students are of age they not only understand the significance of voting but also the practice. It should be instilled in them that voting is part of their greater civic duties.

The main issue, I believe, is for people to believe that candidates can be the conduit through which issues that matter to them can be heard.

One area that I believe still needs a lot of work is the organisation of the process, specifically with regards to getting to know the candidates and their platforms. I think that the Dh2 million cap for campaigning is too high and might be unfair to candidates who do not have these funds.

An easy fix to ensure a more equal footing would be to make basic information about each candidate available so that voters can start to narrow down their search for a candidate that best represents them. A brief biography as well as a shortlist of key issues could be made available on the web or in a booklet. Any additional campaigning, whether it’s a website, promotional video or advertising space, could be left up to the discretion of each individual.  

Currently, all you can find on the FNC’s website is the person’s name, picture and candidate number.

I’ve found that there is a great desire among the public to have the opportunity to meet the candidates or at least hear what they have to say before polling day.

This could be done on television, similar to the candidate debates in the United States, or by providing a space, such as a convention hall, where candidates could set up booths to meet voters and answer their questions.

These are simple and feasible adjustments that could add a lot of value to the election process. They could also help curb the idea that people will just vote for family members or for the candidates who have the money to place their images all over town.

There have been several instances over the past two years where I’ve had conversations with my peers about issues that were discussed in the FNC. On occasions, people have been pleased or severely displeased about the outcome.

Choosing not to vote because you don’t think your vote matters is no excuse. Regardless of whether your candidate wins or not, it is every eligible Emirati’s duty to make an effort and at least try to make a difference by taking part in our country’s electoral process.

Fatima Al Shamsi is a globe­trotting Emirati foodie, film buff and football fanatic