x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

One more step towards the future as Emiratis go to polls

Joy for 20 new FNC members but turnout low at 27.8 per cent.

Officials post the results to waiting supporters at the Exhibition Centre in Ras Al Khaimah last night.
Officials post the results to waiting supporters at the Exhibition Centre in Ras Al Khaimah last night.

There was jubilation and disappointment at polling stations last night as the hundreds of hopefuls learnt the names of the 20 who had won a seat on the FNC.

In most emirates, the results came through within minutes of polls closing at 8pm, after a one-hour extension. But there was frustration in Abu Dhabi as the results were delayed by computer glitches in Al Ain.

Turnout was low, estimated nationally at 27.8 per cent. It ranged from 21.3 per cent in Abu Dhabi to 54.7 per cent in Umm Al Qaiwain. Numbers from polling stations suggested a 24.7 per cent turnout in Dubai, 30.2 per cent in Ras Al Khaimah, 34.3 per cent in Fujairah, 39.8 per cent in Ajman, and 42.2 per cent in Sharjah. In 2006 the turnout was 74.4 per cent.

Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for FNC Affairs and head of the National Election Committee, said: "This day started with bumps, but at the end everything went smoothly. The majority of problems were only in two, or three polling stations."

Although there was a "good participation", he had "expected more". But he would not speculate about the reason for the low turnout, noting only that the whole process needed to be "read thoroughly".

Female candidates did not do well, with just one woman among the 20 elected members of the new FNC - Sheikha Eisa Ghanem. Ms Ghanem, a 40-year-old school principal, topped the Umm Al Qaiwain ballot with 536 votes. "This is the success of all of those who were with me in education, and I'm proud to be the first elected woman in UAQ," she said.

That, though, did not detract from victors' sense of elation. Nowhere was the jubilation greater than in Ras Al Khaimah, where a hundred or so men mobbed the main hall when its doors were opened to announce the result, shouting "Bu Rashid" in honour of Ahmad Al Amash, who topped the ballot with 1,449 votes.

As the results appeared on the screen in the Umm al Quwain counting - five minutes late after technical problems with the computer's security code - women started ululating as soon as they saw that Sheikha Eisa and Obeid Rakkad had won.

In Ajman, elated supported lifted both winners, Sultan Juma Ali Al Shamsi and Abdullah Hamad Al Shamsi, aloft as the results were announced.

In Dubai, victory capped a wearing campaign for second-placed Marwan bin Ghalita. "The next step is to rest," he said, "and then start planning for the goals of the Federal National Council."

His son, Khalifa, 10, was more wrapped up in the moment of victory, though. "I am very happy," he said.

In Fujairah, Ghareeb Al Saridi, 51, an engineer and businessman, topped the ballot with 436 votes. "I am grateful to the voters who put their trust in me," he said.

Second was Sultan Al Sammahi, a 35-year-old Etisalat engineer, with 396 votes. "I can't believe it," he said with tears in his eyes as the results were announced and his sister ran to him and kissed him on his cheeks. "Thank you! Thank you voters."

Both congratulated the other candidates for "giving them a tough competition".

Among the three winners in Sharjah, only Ahmed bin Jarwan, a 49-year-old aircraft engineer and a colonel in the armed forces, was present to hear the result.

"Most important now is to put words in action," he said later. "I have made several promises and because I am a man of action that Emiratis know well, I have been entrusted with their votes. I am really humbled."

During his campaign, he promised to stick up for the rights of women - a task that will now be all the more important with so few women elected to the new FNC. "We all have women in our lives, we respect and love them dearly and this is a reason we should fight to enhance their rights," he said.

While most candidates kept saying they expected them to win during the day, there were some sad faces that started to form hidden tears. While other candidates joined in on the cheering and greeting and nose kissing.

* Reporting by Ola Salem, Wafa Issa, Amna al Haddad, Haneen al Dajani, Rym Ghazal, Anna Zacharias and Yasin Kakande.