x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

FNC candidates want longer campaign periods

Campaigning ends tomorrow and some of the 468 Emiratis hoping to win a place on the council on Saturday say they feel they have barely had time to get started.

Abu Dhabi FNC candidate Noura Al Nowais says she would have liked more guidance.
Abu Dhabi FNC candidate Noura Al Nowais says she would have liked more guidance.

ABU DHABI // When election campaigns around the world draw to a close, you will hear candidates describe how exhausted they are.

But here it is the opposite. After just two weeks, FNC hopefuls are already in the final dash to the finish.

Campaigning ends tomorrow and some of the 468 Emiratis hoping to win a place on the council on Saturday say they feel they have barely had time to get started.

Marwan bin Ghaleda, a Dubai candidate, said more time for campaigning would have allowed him to meet more voters.

"The time was not enough. It would be nice to have had it longer," Mr bin Ghaleda said.

Part of his campaign strategy was to connect with people on social media, then meet them in person.

"I started with Facebook and Twitter to get to know people and they know me," he said. "Then I contacted them and met them in the majlis, so they can get to know Marwan better, get to know my thoughts better.

"So a longer campaigning period would have helped me to continue meeting more people."

Mr bin Ghaleda planned to use the last two days of campaigning to reconnect with people he had already met … "and, of course, pray".

Hassan Al Mari, another Dubai candidate, said: "The period is not enough, honestly, but as a second trial it is acceptable."

He also hopes to spend the last couple of days reconnecting with old contacts.

"For a while we have been speaking to people, now we need to reconnect - remind people about the locations of the polling stations and day of elections," he said.

And while some candidates have effectively declared their campaigns over - Dr Ismael Al Zarouni, a candidate from Dubai, tweeted on Sunday that "the ball is in the voters' court" - others, such as Huda Al Matroushi from Abu Dhabi, are dashing to the end, arranging longer majlis opening hours and last-minute lectures.

Some said the short campaign was compounded by a lack of guidance. Noura Al Nowais, a candidate from Abu Dhabi, said the National Election Committee should have issued guidelines at the start on the best ways to communicate with voters.

"We are now at the end of campaigning and we still do not know what to do," she said.

"Yes, we are sending out brochures and talking to people online, but we might be talking to anybody. We want a way to speak to voters directly."

In the absence of an accessible register of voters' contact details, many turned to social media on the advice of Dr Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for FNC Affairs and the head of the NEC, and to former FNC members. But not all are convinced that was effective.

"You can speak to 1,000 people online but most of them may not even be voters," said Rashid Al Marar, an Abu Dhabi candidate.

RB, a Dubai candidate, looked through the electoral roll and called the voters whose numbers he or his contacts already knew.

"The Emirates is a small place," said RB. "Most people know each other, or at least we know someone in that family who can help us."

But there are practical and constitutional constraints to the length of campaigning, which started on September 4, immediately after Eid.

It is hard to imagine much enthusiasm from candidates or voters for campaigning during Ramadan.

And the UAE constitution requires the first FNC session to be held in the third week of October. That, combined with the need to name the 20 appointed members who will share the council with the 20 elected candidates, would make it difficult to hold the voting any later.

In any case, some candidates say they would have struggled to take more time off work as required by the NEC rules.

"Some of us couldn't have taken a longer vacation," said one candidate from Dubai.

"I am not against the rule, but it is just hard. Some people who wanted to be candidates weren't because they couldn't leave their jobs."

osalem@thenational.ae