x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

New rules for next elections to FNC

No date decided yet - but voters must have ID card.

ABU DHABI // Guidelines governing the next elections to the FNC were announced yesterday by the National Election Committee (NEC).

Apart from the increased electoral college already announced – and no date was given for when the elections will take place –  there were few changes from the election rules five years ago.

In one change, however, voters will need to have an Emirates identity card to take part in the elections.

FNC members have called for a comprehensive election law to establish who is entitled to run for election and who is eligible to vote, to set election time frames, and to determine campaign rules and spending limits.

The new guidelines define the minimum number of electoral college members in each emirate as 300 times the emirate’s number of representatives on the FNC. Abu Dhabi, which has eight FNC members, has to nominate at least 2,400 citizens to the electoral college.

There are no regulations governing who can be appointed to the electoral college, whose members will vote in the elections.

Each voter will be able to vote for more than one candidate in his emirate, up to half the number of the emirate’s representatives at the FNC. So in Fujairah, for instance, which has four FNC members, a voter can vote for two candidates.

Each emirate’s electoral college will include representatives from the police, the ruler’s court, the municipality and civil society.

They will form committees to lead the emirate’s electoral college, but they will not have oversight powers.

The NEC will be responsible for announcing the timeline for the elections, each emirate’s candidates, and the winners in the campaigns. The committee, according to the regulations, will also be in charge of studying complaints and appeals against the results.

The regulations also form a security committee at the NEC, which will be in charge of ensuring “secure and free elections”.
Employees in the public sector can stand for election, but are considered to be on leave from their jobs during the campaign.

Voters, candidates and their representatives are allowed to be present at election centres that do not use electronic voting systems to verify that regulations have been followed.

Election candidates are banned from inflaming “religious, sectarian, tribal or racial prejudice” in their campaigns.

They are allowed to run campaigns in local media and to hold press conferences and sessions laying out their campaign promises. Personal attacks are banned.

Members cannot form election blocs, which effectively bans political parties, but they can hold election rallies.

No government, company or institution owned by the government is allowed to fund or provide resources to election candidates, which means a proposal floated by some FNC members to create an election fund for candidates is unlikely to be approved.

Government officials cannot use their positions to promote specific members.

Last month a second round of elections was announced for half the members of the FNC. The remaining members are appointed.

The announcement also tripled the minimum number of citizens allowed to vote as part of the electoral college, but some members say the number of enfranchised citizens is still too small.

“We are with the leadership in moving gradually, but we should take steps forward,” said Sultan al Suwaidi, a former committee chairman and FNC member from Dubai. “How many years is it going to be before everyone can vote? It must be open for everyone.”

“Now, all the people should take part,” said Abdul Raheem al Shaheen, a former member from Ras al Khaimah. “Citizens are equal in rights and duties. Consequently, how can you choose one segment and not the other?”

But Dr Sultan al Muazzin, a former committee chairman and member from Fujairah, said the UAE was not yet ready. “I think the number in the electoral colleges is enough, especially since there is a lack of election culture in Emirati society,” Dr al Muazzin said. There is no widespread interest in the process and the democratic experience is still young, he said.

Najla al Awadhi, the youngest member of the FNC, said she was in favour of “meritocratic quotas” to ensure that women had a role in parliamentary life. While several women were appointed to the FNC, only one was elected.

kshaheen@thenational.ae