x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

FNC will get more powers, official predicts

Member says gradual steps should lead to expansion in electoral roll.

DUBAI // A veteran official of the FNC predicts more powers will be given to the council, and says there may be universal suffrage in electing members.

Dr Mohamed Al Mazroui, an FNC member between 1984 and 1991, and its secretary general for the past 15 years, said gradual steps to increase political participation were heading towards further expansion in the electoral roll, possibly to include all citizens.

Elections were introduced for the first time in 2006, giving 6,595 Emiratis the right to vote for half the seats in the council. Last year, almost 130,000 nationals were eligible to vote.

"I think the steps will be gradual. It will be in two ways: increase the electoral college list, possibly to include all locals, and I think more than this, increase the powers of the council as Sheikh Khalifa has indicated," Dr Al Mazroui said at a seminar in Dubai last night, reflecting on the past 40 years of the FNC.

Dr Maryam Lootah, an assistant professor in political science at UAE University who sat alongside Dr Al Mazroui in the discussion panel, agreed.

But Dr Lootah said she had observed appointed members had been more active than elected members, which may put voters off casting ballots. "People may not be really eager to elect candidates. It depends on how convinced they are," she said. "This is very important for the empowerment steps of the council."

Mohammed Al Hammadi, who was a parliamentary journalist for a decade before becoming the editor in chief at the Arabic National Geographic, agreed.

Mr Al Hammadi said the work of current members would help the rulers to decide whether to speed up empowerment of the FNC or slow it down.

Dr Lootah said the gradual process of granting the council more power would also depend on people's knowledge of it and awareness of their own national responsibility.

Panellists reflected on the low participation in the last election. Dr Lootah said it was possible that the high number of youths on the roll were not very eager to participate.

Mr Al Hammadi said it was important for the media to educate the public.

He suggested live streaming of FNC sessions could be beneficial.

Dr Al Mazroui took the opportunity during the opening speech to brief the audience on the council's role and on how effective it had been since its establishment two months after the formation of the UAE.

He split the council's work into three phases: building the community in the 1970s and 1980s; helping economic growth in the country in the 1990s; and from then on increasing its political role locally and internationally.

Former and current FNC members, and previous election candidates, were present at the seminar, along with university students and professors.