x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Glitches fail to stifle poll enthusiasm

Voters wait up to three hours to cast ballots for 15 representatives of the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and Industry board.

Men wait to vote in the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and Industry election yesterday.
Men wait to vote in the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and Industry election yesterday.

ABU DHABI // A long line of businesspeople snaked around the voting centre yesterday as they waited patiently to pick their choices in a vital poll. Some voters, who ranged from hairdressers to convenience-shop owners, claimed an affinity with candidates from their homeland. Others mulled over the promises made by those hoping to get elected to the board of directors of the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ADCCI).

"It is important that all businessmen in Abu Dhabi exercise their rights," said Raid abu Hudra, a Jordanian who runs his own business. "As businessmen, it is our interest that the council has an interest in the private sector, to encourage performance of businesses and also improve project facilities." Mr Hudra, like thousands of others, waited for three hours for his voting card when the electronic system that oversees the process broke down for a time.

Security guards estimated that the average voter had queued for two hours for a process that should take 30 minutes. The results were expected at about midnight. Nasser Omar, an Emirati owner of a furniture shop, said that he had waited all morning. "I am looking to vote for the candidate that will increase the exposure of my business, and provide greater access to networking," said Mr Omar. "This is a change. And it is the freedom to choose people representing the chamber. I hope it will be successful."

Some independent candidates, such as Mazhar Choudhry and Balan Vijayan, who owns the franchise of Ruby Saloon, worried that their votes might have been compromised as voting switched to a manual method from electronic. "We have raised our concerns with the authorities and they have told us not to worry," said Mr Choudhry. Ahmad Yasin, a legal consultant with the chamber, said that "everything had been processed in a democratic way."

Polling, originally expected to end at 8pm, was extended by two hours because of a late rush to the booths. Seventy-nine candidates vied for 15 board seats in what will be the second election since the voting system was introduced in 2005. The board comprises 21 seats with six appointed by the Government, two of whom must be women. Two of the 15 elected positions are reserved for expatriates. With more than 70,000 active members, the ADCCI is a public body that represents private-sector interests. Membership in the chamber is mandatory for all firms holding trade licences in the emirate.

Voting areas were set up in three cities: Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Madinat Zayed. It was estimated that 10,000 voters called at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Company (ADNEC) yesterday. Some candidates campaigned from a common platform, like the Abu Dhabi First group, which fielded 15 candidates, including Fatima al Jaber, the chief executive of the Al Jaber Group, who is one of two female Emiratis to be contesting the elections. The group promised services to improve business and to reduce membership fees by half.

A thousand volunteers for Abu Dhabi First fanned out across ADNEC. Meanwhile, smaller groups of volunteers for the independent candidates called people to vote and offered them rides. Mr Choudhry, an independent and first-time voter who owns HSN Roads Contracting, said his volunteers were urging people on the phone by saying: "This is your right. Don't miss the chance to exercise your right." * The National