x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

No ceiling on FNC voters, says leader

There is no restriction on the number of citizens that each emirate may allow to vote for the FNC, says National Elections Committee chairman.

ABU DHABI // There is no restriction on the number of citizens that each emirate may allow to vote for the FNC, the chairman of the National Elections Committee said yesterday.

The UAE "specifies the minimum limit, while the maximum limit is left open", said Dr Anwar Gargash, who is also the former Minister of FNC Affairs. Dr Gargash first released his statement about the voting numbers on WAM, the state news agency.

The UAE will hold its second-ever elections for half of the members of the FNC on September 24. The other half of the 40-member council are appointed by the rulers of the emirates.

Each emirate also chooses who gets to vote in the council's elections. In the last elections, in 2006, more than 6,600 Emiratis were appointed to the electoral college and were given the right to vote.

Dr Gargash's statement is not a departure from official UAE policy, but two former FNC members said it may be a response to concerns raised by former FNC members and other groups that not enough nationals have been given the right to vote. But the former FNC members also downplayed the announcement.

"This is politics talk. To say there is no ceiling, this is playing with words. For example, if the minimum is 30, they could make the ceiling 31," said Dr Abdulraheem al Shaheen, a former FNC member from Ras al Khaimah.

However, Dr Sultan al Muazzin, a former FNC member from Fujairah, said that Dr Gargash's statements were meant as a clarification, and that criticisms of the size of the electoral college were confined to a minority. He stressed that the process should not immediately be open to everyone, or the result could be chaotic. "They already choose from all government departments people who are qualified to take that role."

A petition last month signed by 130 Emiratis and addressed to Sheikh Khalifa, the President of the UAE, and to the Federal Supreme Council called for direct, universal elections for the FNC and full parliamentary powers for the largely advisory government body, which can amend but not initiate legislation.

The petition echoed frequent demands by former FNC members to widen political participation and empower the council.

"The democratisation of the elections is not the core issue, the focus should be on strengthening the influence and authority of the council," said Sultan al Suwaidi, a former FNC member from Dubai.

A presidential decree in February tripled the minimum size of the electoral college in each emirate. That figure is now 300 times the number of representatives each emirate has in the council. For instance, Dubai has eight representatives at the FNC, so it must grant voting rights to at least 2,400 of its citizens.

There is a debate among FNC members about whether to give voting rights to all Emiratis.

However, Dr Muazzin opposed such a step, saying people have no political demands in the country, and the Government was the one that initiated the move towards electing members of the FNC.

But Dr al Shaheen said the Government should simply grant the right to vote to all citizens without placing the burden on individual emirates. "All citizens have equal rights, so anyone who fits the criteria should be allowed to vote."

But the decree does not place a ceiling on voting rights, which means an emirate can theoretically give universal suffrage to its citizens.

In the past, individual emirates did grant voting rights to more citizens than the minimum, but the numbers varied in scale.

In 2006, Fujairah could grant the right to vote to at least 400 of its citizens. It appointed 418. By contrast, Abu Dhabi, which was allowed an electoral college of at least 800, appointed nearly 1,800 members to the electoral college.