x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Pakistanis call on doctor to lead

A doctor has led the Pakistan Friends Panel to victory in the Pakistan Association of Dubai's elections.

DUBAI //An endocrinologist who runs a free clinic for labourers has swept the incumbent Pakistan Friends Panel to victory in an election to lead the emirate's key Pakistani association.

Supporters distributed sweets yesterday and raised cheers of zindabad ("long live") the morning after Dr Zia ul Hassan's victory was announced at the headquarters of the Pakistan Association of Dubai (Pad).

The PFP, led by Dr ul Hassan, 51, won decisively with 856 votes, compared with only 34 for the opposition Pakistan People's Panel (PPP), in results announced late on Friday.

Of the 936 votes cast, 46 were rejected due to incorrect marking.

"So many people supported us and this adds to our responsibility to deliver results," said Dr ul Hassan, who contested the Pakistani community polls for the first time. "Expectation is high and our main focus will be to reach out and seek support across the community."

Raising funds to finish a much-delayed community hall project is one priority of the party, which says it wants to make Pad more welcoming to Dubai's diverse Pakistan community of 400,000 people.

The outer structure of the community building, which cost Dh6.3 million (US$1.7m), is complete but money is needed to complete the interior work.

Dr ul Hassan will focus on his election promises of a medical centre for the poor and mediating between citizens and the Pakistani consulate to ease problems including delays in passport renewals and the repatriation of bodies.

"We plan to go much beyond the community hall project," said Dr ul Hassan, who in addition to his clinic in Umm Suqeim runs a monthly free clinic for labourers from Pad's Bur Dubai office.

"We want to make Pad more inclusive, get more ideas from the community and find out what are their priorities."

PPP, attributing its loss to time constraints, vowed to work harder.

"People didn't know us; we needed more time to get voters to know us better," said the defeated PPP candidate Mohammed Rashid Chughtai, a businessman. "We will be ready next time and we will continue to help in social and charitable causes."

Of 12 posts in Pad, the four positions contested were those of the president, vice president, general secretary and community welfare officer. The new team will be sworn in next Friday.

Some 2,666 members of the association were eligible to vote in the secret ballot. Officials said almost 1,800 members voted in the last elections in 2009.

But membership has decreased by almost 30 per cent after the economic downturn. Officials also blamed Friday's low turnout of voters on the sweltering heat.

Abdul Ghaffar Fancy, the chairman of the election committee, said the polls played an important role in giving the community a voice.

"Change is good so there are fresh ideas constantly coming in," said Mr Fancy. "Apart from the community hall, help is needed with repatriation of bodies, helping the needy with fines, [and] school and hospital fees."

Earlier on Friday, officials from Dubai's Community Development Authority inspected the election process as groups of men and women entered separate polling rooms.

Behind brown screens, they ticked green ballot papers with a car symbol for the PFP and a clock to represent the PPP.

"It's very important to take part in this process because the community needs facilities," said Zarka Saeed, a housewife who took along her 2-year-old son. "If we want something then we must take the trouble of coming here to say which party we want."

Others, such as Mobisher Rabbani, an oil sector consultant, called for more transparency.

"There is a disconnect with the larger community and it is now the doctor's responsibility to open the gates to all people," Mr Rabbani said.

"He must make the organisation transparent and be a bridge with the embassy when people have problems."