x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Computer glitch added to FNC election tension

The wait for results was heavy going for Abu Dhabi candidates.

FNC candidates wait for results at the Al Ain Exhibition Centre on Saturday. Sammy Dallal / The National
FNC candidates wait for results at the Al Ain Exhibition Centre on Saturday. Sammy Dallal / The National

AL AIN // Shortly after 8pm on Saturday, as the television started broadcasting the results from all of the other emirates, the tension in the Abu Dhabi and Al Ain convention centres mounted.

Every eye was on the 5 metre-wide screen. Many candidates sat nervously tapping their feet on the ground, while others fidgeted with their mobile phones.

Four results were announced, then five, then six. But from Abu Dhabi, nothing.

The candidates demanded Dr Ali Salem Al Tunaiji, who was in charge of the voting station at Al Ain Convention Centre, tell them where their results were.

"Soon, in a few minutes," Dr Al Tunaiji told anyone that asked. "Within 10 minutes at the latest."

By 9.25pm, it was clear something had gone wrong. The hosts on Abu Dhabi Al Emarat, the station showing the results, continued talking about the voting in other emirates. But still not Abu Dhabi.

Earlier in the day the voting centres in Al Ain and Abu Dhabi had experienced technical difficulties with the electronic voting system.

In Al Ain the machines had ceased to operate for about two hours and in Abu Dhabi for about one.

While most voters waited patiently, several expressed concern that their votes might not have been registered, as they did not receive a hard-copy printout to place in the ballot boxes after voting electronically.

"The computer didn't give me my receipt, which leaves me in doubt that my vote was actually registered," said Huda Al Shamsi, a housewife.

Soon after the computers came back online, Dr Tunaiji said the crash had been caused by voters who did not know how to use the voting terminals.

"Voters were supposed to watch a demonstration of how to use the machines before voting, but many didn't," he said.

"Many assumed the machines were broken, but they were not. They were just in sleep mode. But when those who didn't know how to use them kept putting in and pulling out their identification cards and kept pushing buttons, they crashed the computers."

Aziz Homoud Al Amri, the national head of election centres, admitted there had been an issue with hard copies not being printed as the printers had gone into sleep mode.

By about 9.40pm, the candidates were speculating about the cause of the delay, wondering whether the computer glitches were to blame.

Dr Al Tunaiji did his best to calm their fears.

"It will be just a few more minutes, 10 at the most," he repeated.

Then, at 9.50pm, the television commentator's voice blared over the loudspeakers: "We have just been informed that the results for the emirate of Abu Dhabi will be delayed a further hour to an hour and a half."

Immediately, everyone stood up and headed for the exits. By 10pm, where minutes earlier more than two dozen candidates had sat, there were none.

As members of the media began gathering their equipment, clean-up crews moved in and security guards began locking the convention centre's doors.

An hour later, the results were finally announced by Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for FNC Affairs and head of the National Election Committee.

"The day started with some technical difficulties with the electronic voting machines at 9am and 9.40am that took an hour to an hour and a half to resolve," Dr Gargash said.

"To compensate for the problems that happened, we extended the [polls] from 7pm to 8pm.

"There was also a technical problem that occurred in bringing the vote tally from the Al Ain voting centre to the Abu Dhabi one. That's why there was a delay in announcing the results for the emirate of Abu Dhabi."

FNC election committee officials confirmed the delays had occurred because of the problems in Al Ain.

ealghalib@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Ola Salem