x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Election turnout dropped highest among women and youth, report says

Report by the National Election Committee helps to answer the key question on the minds of ministers after September's FNC elections: why did turnout plummet to just 28 per cent?

ABU DHABI // The report by the National Election Committee helps to answer the key question on the minds of ministers after September's FNC elections: why did turnout fall by so much?

Although the electoral roll was 20 times the size of the list for the 2006 elections, with about 130,000 Emiratis eligible to vote, the turnout was much lower - 28 per cent, compared with 70 per cent in 2006.

The NEC was wary before the polls of putting a figure on the turnout it hoped for, but the report reveals it was expecting it to fall to about 60 per cent.

The committee has since been examining voting figures to work out the reasons for such a huge drop in the hope of increasing turnout next time.

There were two key demographic indicators: age and gender. It had been hoped that a greater number of women on the rolls would result in more women winning seats.

But only one, Sheikha Eisa Ghanem in Umm Al Quwain, was successful. She has since been joined on the 40-member council by six appointed women.

Many candidates went for the youth vote through social media and canvassed more men than women, based on the misconception that women would vote only for female candidates, and because young people made up one of the larger groups in the electorate.

The report revealed that although almost half of the registered voters - 46 per cent - were women, they were substantially less likely to vote, with a turnout of 19 per cent compared with 33 per cent of men.

The difference was greatest in Ajman where only 28 per cent of registered women turned out to vote, compared with 48 per cent of registered men. But in Umm Al Quwain the figures were skewed the other way, albeit slightly. It was the only emirate to elect a woman, with 57 per cent of women going to the polls, compared with 53 per cent of men.

Ms Ghanem said this proved that what many had suggested after the election was incorrect.

"They said that women did not want to vote for women," she said.

Ms Ghanem's popularity in her emirate was not only among women, but also among men and young people, she added.

She said that it was the sole factor in her victory and that she ran reluctantly, because other people wanted her to.

"But that doesn't mean I do not want or deserve to be in the FNC," Ms Ghanem said.

Analysing the turnout by age gives another clue as to where candidates may have miscalculated.

Some focused on winning over younger voters but, as in many countries, they were the least likely to vote, despite comprising a third of registered voters. The turnout among voters aged between 20 and 29 was 24 per cent.

Those most likely to vote were aged 40 to 49 and 50 to 59 (both 31 per cent), 60 to 69 (28) and 30 to 39 (27).

This may explain why many of the winning candidates were those who used their own connections, visited families and contacted the leaders of tribes to ask for their support.

"We were not guided, we had to rely on our personal contacts and our own hard work to reach voters," one successful candidate said during a public debate.

That frustration was shared by voters. The report's authors asked 816 registered voters why they thought the turnout had been so low, and half said it was because there had not been enough information about candidates.

Fifty-four per cent said there was not enough information on the electoral process, and another 54 per cent said they were unhappy with the electronic polling machines.

There was also apathy, with 28 per cent saying they did not think the FNC was important enough for them to bother voting, a reason echoed by registered but non-voting Emiratis who spoke to The National.

"We did not vote," said Amna A, from Al Ain. "Our family was on the list but we didn't know about the FNC. There was information out on the elections but none on the FNC during that time. There was not enough awareness."

On elections day, Al Ain polling station, even after suffering a technical hitch that left voters waiting for hours before they could vote, was the second busiest in the country, recording 47 per cent of the votes in Abu Dhabi emirate.

It recorded 4,791 votes, second only to the Dubai Airport polling station, where 5,185 people voted.

There were also pronounced patterns in voting times, too, with peaks in every emirate just before midday and again after 5pm.