x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Low FNC voter turnout was ‘unexpected’

Experts analysing reasons for voter numbers say process of awareness will always take time.

The FNC results confirmed a fear many had voiced before the election: despite a vastly increased electoral roll and months of publicity, the turnout was proportionally well down on the 2006 election.

From more than 70 per cent last time, with fewer than 7,000 eligible voters, it was down to just 28 per cent of the more than 129,000 voters, dipping to barely 21 per cent in Abu Dhabi.

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Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for FNC affairs and head of the National Election Committee, admitted it had not met expectations.

"We were expecting more," Dr Gargash said on Saturday night. "I think through this experience we can draw an election folder. I think this is something very important."

Some suggested a more powerful FNC might attract a greater turnout of voters in future.

"There is a proportion of society who consider the FNC to be a mere decoration with no power and therefore were not interested in taking part in the election," said Dr Ibtisam Al Kitbi, a political science professor at UAE University.

"People will only get interested when they can see how the election is affecting their lives. Therefore, what should be worked at is expanding the authorities of the FNC."

But Dr Al Kitbi did not think the turnout was so bad, all things considered.

"The preparation time was very short and many people were not interested," she said.

"More work over a longer timespan should have been done to raise people's awareness and highlight the work which has been carried out by the FNC, and how it affected people's lives.

"We need to gradually increase the level of awareness to reach better results."

Apparently that awareness had already spread in Umm Al Qaiwain, where turnout reached 54 per cent.

Lt Gen Abdullah Saif, the head of the UAQ National Elections Committee, put it down to the emirate's strong sense of community.

"Candidates had a very strong relationship with the voters, so they all showed up to support them," Gen Saif said. "I think people who showed up in the beginning went back and called their fellow voters, and told them how easy it was and there was no congestion at all and it was very organised."

Community spirit showed elsewhere, too. Ali Ahmad, 37, an RAK candidate and IT teacher from the north coast town of Shaam, said he was surprised how many people made the journey from small towns on election day.

Mr Ahmad said many came in large groups and stayed for hours to support friends who were running.

"The most important thing is Sheikh Khalifa called us two days ago and asked us to go to the elections to do our duty," he said.

"I thought people outside the city would not come but it is the opposite, thanks to the Government. We hoped that the election would be better than this but it takes a little time because the knowledge of democracy takes a little time. It will be step by step."

Dr Abdul Khaleq Abdullah, a political science professor at UAE University, said the turnout was less than expected.

"This percentage has come against all national efforts that were made prior to the election and the support which came from the political leadership," Dr Abdullah said. "The turnout was not only modest but also not convincing."

He suggested it might be because so many women and young people had been given the vote.

Dr Abdullah suggested the large number of women on the electoral roll - they accounted for almost half the total - was admirable, but might have pushed down the turnout "as women universally go less to vote".

Likewise the young: "Youth representation is a good thing to have, but with youth even in mature democracies such as the United States, [turnout] is very low," he said.

And while Dr Abdullah suggested these "mistakes" might be reviewed in future, he cautioned that the low turnout did not signify a lack of interest in democracy.

"That is a wrong reading," he said.

wissa@thenational.ae

* Additional reporting by Ola Salem, Anna Zacharias and Haneen Dajani