Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 15 October 2019

Record turnout for 'historic' FNC elections

Thousands of Emiratis made their voices heard on election day

A record number of Emiratis cast their votes on an 'historic' Federal National Council election day.

The 39 voting centres across the seven emirates remained open for an additional hour to ensure residents were able to have their say at the ballot box as the nation went to the polls on Saturday.

Voters turned out in force to throw their support behind close to 500 candidates who have been hot on the campaign trail for weeks in the hope of winning a seat on the UAE's legislative body.

Calls for greater equality, better health care in remote parts of the country and an acceleration of the Emiratisation drive were just a few of the issues exercising minds from Ras Al Khaimah and Sharjah to Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

While numbers of people who voted were up greatly on the 2015 election - from 79,157 to 117,592 - the percentage turnout was slightly down, from 35.29 per cent to 34.81 per cent.

This is due to the substantial increase in the number of registered voters for the 2019 elections, up from 224,279 to 337,738 this year.

Noura Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development and head of the National Election Commission's media committee, said the involvement of so many citizens "brings us one step closer to a new model of political empowerment" that the country's leaders envisioned.

Speaking about the extension of polling station hours from 8pm to 9pm, she said it allowed many people as possible to contribute to the democratic process.

"We announced that we were extending an hour to make sure that everyone in the halls was comfortable and the election was completed," said Ms Al Kaabi.

"Therefore, it is important for us not to ask people to leave such an important moment.

"This is an historic day. It happens every four years, so an hour is crucial at this moment."

The voter turnout per emirate amounted to 35,790 in Abu Dhabi, 12,891 in Dubai, 22,451 in Sharjah, 4,393 in Ajman, 3,778 in Umm Al Quwain, 22,172 in Ras Al Khaimah, and 16,117 in Fujairah.

During the next four years, voter Amna Al Yammahi wants to see more measures put in place to help people with learning difficulties and disabilities get jobs.

"I get very upset when I go to places and see people with special needs sitting doing nothing," she said as the cast her vote for a candidate running in Fujairah.

"Many are very qualified and could get the job done whatever their disability."

Ms Al Yammahi, 27, who works in media, did not wish to publicly say who she voted for but said he is a "man of the people".

If elected he would use his position to ensure a place for anyone with a disability in the workplace.

This is an historic day. It happens every four years, so an hour is crucial at this moment

Noura Al Kaabi on the extension of voting hours

"He is always helping others and his phone is ringing 24 hours a day, and that's even before he becomes an FNC member," said Ms Al Yammahi, who took her son Zayed to the polling centre with her.

Among the international officials observing the elections on Saturday was Saad El Gammal, deputy speaker of the Arab Parliament.

"We have seen the process as transparent and swift and [welcome] the decision by President Sheikh Khalifa that women will take 50 per cent of the votes," he told The National as he toured Adnec.

"Women are half of society they should also account for half of parliament members. I hope that this experience is replicated in the Arab world."

Dr Amal Al Qubaisi, the FNC speaker, cast her own vote in Abu Dhabi.

She said there has been a strong turnout from women and young voters.

"We are now experiencing the fourth parliamentary session and seeing this huge number of youth and women flock to the centres is promising," she said.

"I feel very happy as I witness this. I also thank all candidates for taking the initiative to run."

More than 180 women candidates registered to run this year compared to 78 in 2015. Dr Al Qubaisi was the first woman to be elected in 2006.

Volunteers Hessa Al Hamadi and Ashwaq Al Messabi take a short break at Adnec. Victor Besa / The National
Volunteers Hessa Al Hamadi and Ashwaq Al Messabi take a short break at Adnec. Victor Besa / The National

A senior police officer joined the crowds eager to play a part in a milestone day in the history of the UAE.

Captain Muza Al Khabouri, director of community programmes at Ras Al Khaimah Police, was one of the voters who filed into polling centres across the country to have their say.

She called on fellow residents to ensure they make their voices heard and help shape democracy in the Emirates.

Mohammed Al Muzaki, 38, was at Al Rams polling station in Ras Al Khaimah to vote for his mother Naama Al Sharhan. She is an existing FNC member - the only woman elected to the council in 2015, though a further eight were appointed - and is running again.

"I'm here to support my mother because she really deserves it," he said.

"She managed to accomplish many things during the last FNC cycle and l want to give her the opportunity to stay and continue the great work she has been doing during the past four years."

Fellow voter Sultan Al Shehhi, 43, arrived at the same station with his wife Nadia.

"I voted for the candidate who promised to keep in touch with RAK people after becoming an FNC member," he said, declining to say who the candidate was.

"He also promised to find better ideas to improve Emiratisation and provide better health care services in remote areas."

More than 337,000 Emiratis were eligible to vote in the elections, which decide 20 of the 40 seats on the Federal National Council.

The remaining 20 members of the council will be appointed by the Rulers of the seven emirates.

Updated: October 6, 2019 10:20 AM

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