x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

For FNC candidates, a question of advertising returns

Twelve of the 20 elected Federal National Council members had bought advertisements in Arabic newspapers.

As the dust settles from the recent FNC elections, winners and losers - and those thinking of running in future polls - will be pondering the effects of campaign spending.

There was certainly a flurry of advertising.

An analysis by The National shows Arabic-language newspapers were loaded with advertisements at the end of the campaign.

In the final four days alone, 168 candidates took out a total of 95 pages of ads in the four newspapers studied.

That compares with 30 pages in the first seven days of campaigning and 54 in the second week.

Some big advertisers were successful.

In the four Arabic newspapers studied - Al Ittihad, Al Bayan, Emarat Al Youm and Al Khaleej - 12 of the 20 elected FNC members had bought ad space.

Topping the list was Faisal Abdullah Al Teniji, now an FNC member for Ras Al Khaimah. Mr Al Teniji took out a total of 8,480 square centimetres of newspaper space with 10 ads, many of which were bigger than a half-page.

Mohammed Moslam Al Amiri, from Abu Dhabi, followed with 7,235sq cm of ad space over eight ads, most of which were in the last four days of campaigning.

The successful Dubai candidate Hamad Sultan Al Rohomi took out 23 ads over the 17 days, more than any other candidate.

But the biggest advertiser of all was not so lucky. Moza Al Otaiba, a candidate from Abu Dhabi, bought about 16,680sq cm of space, equal to 9.5 pages and at an estimated cost of Dh400,000, and still lost.

Other successful candidates - Sheikha Eisa Ghanem and Obaid Hassan Rakad in Umm Al Qaiwain; Gharib Al Saridi and Sultan Al Sammahi in Fujairah; Sultan Al Shamsi in Ajman; Ahmad Abdullah Al Amash in Ras Al Khaimah; and Misbah Saeed Al Katbi in Sharjah - did not advertise in the four papers.

They relied more on face-to-face interaction and family connections.

Sheikha Eisa was the only woman elected.

"I'm an academic and I connect a lot with society and students, so I wasn't new to the society here," she said.

Mr Al Saridi relied on street posters and meeting the people. A member of Al Saridi mountain tribe, of which his father and grandfather were chiefs, he visited the mountain villages of Fujairah one by one to gather support.

"I went and talked to the people in the villages and found out what were their main concerns and raised the issues as part of my campaign," Mr Al Saridi, 50, said.

"In our emirate, it is the face-to-face interactions that make a difference, not just posters or ads like in other places."

On election night, Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for FNC Affairs and head of the National Elections Commission (NEC), suggested traditional communication, rather than social media, had been the biggest factor in the results.

"But this is only based on first reading," Dr Gargash said. "We still need to study and read into it."

And with some tribes - Al Amiris in Abu Dhabi and Al Shamsis in Ajman - dominating the list of winners, some candidates have suggested the electoral system should be recast to ensure a greater cross-section of families are represented on the FNC.

"We are not many families in the UAE," said one Abu Dhabi candidate. "When the NEC saw that many from the same tribe were elected they should have not counted them, and given the chance to other people.

"Every member of that family who went to vote voted for everyone from their family. They should have given the chance to other candidates. Their mentality was, 'Me and my cousin against the stranger'."

Abdulnaser Al Rashedi, a voter in Abu Dhabi, was not surprised Al Amiris won three of the four seats in the capital.

"All tribes are good at sticking together but they particularly are," Mr Al Rashedi said. "People are more connected tribally than on Twitter and Facebook."

Another voter, NA, said at the Abu Dhabi polling station last week that voters had shown a clear tribal preference.

"We have one of our family members running so we voted for them," NA said. "But for the others, we picked the people who deserved it based on their programmes.

"There is a lot of tribal preference here. We found that."

osalem@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Rym Ghazal and Vivian Nereim