x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

September election predicted for FNC

Modernising the council 'occupies an important and expanding position in political discourse,' minister says

ABU DHABI // Members of the FNCconcluded their final session yesterday amid predictions that the next elections will be scheduled for September.

There was no official confirmation of an election date. “What we’ve heard so far is the expectation that the elections will happen this year … in September,” Najla al Awadhi, a member from Dubai, said after the session closed.

Ms al Awadhi underscored her confidence in the date by writing on her Twitter account that elections would be held in September.

“The central message is that there will be elections this year and there won’t be a parliamentary gap,” she said.

Council members also used the final session to repeat calls for expanded powers.

“There is no doubt that the time has come for this council to move from issuing proposals to taking decisions,” Sultan Saqr al Suwaidi, the chairman of the FNC’s youth and media committee, said.

“We have to raise the ceiling,” said Mr al Suwaidi, a member from Dubai, adding that the council should have greater authority “so we can call this council a legislative and oversight council”.

The 40-member FNC currently has the authority to debate and amend laws, question ministers  and discuss the annual federal budget, but not to initiate legislation.

Half of the FNC’s members are appointed by the rulers of the seven emirates, while the other half are chosen by an electoral college of nearly 6,700 Emiratis, who are chosen by the rulers.

Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for FNC Affairs, highlighted the fact that this FNC was a historic one, being the first to experience elections and to have its term extended to four years.

“The process of modernising the FNC occupies an important and expanding position in political discourse,” Dr Gargash said.

“The political leadership has never been far from this popular ambition, but it is among its priorities.”

Dr Gargash said the first FNC elections represented a “start” that would be supplemented by “increasing participation and interaction by the nation’s children.”

Abdulaziz al Ghurair, the speaker of the FNC, yesterday listed what he said were this council’s milestones.

Among them were passing a crucial public debt law, amending consumer protection legislation and working on improving the country’s electrical grid and health services.

In a statement addressed to FNC members on Monday, Sheikh Khalifa, the President of the UAE, said the country wanted to continue its “successful” parliamentary experience.

Ms al Awadhi said there was a clear direction from the Government to engage more Emiratis in the country’s political process and to create a “culture of activism in society”.

The Government was signalling that there would be broader political participation in the future, she said.

“There is no going back.”

Some FNC members have a broad range of proposals for reform of the council.

These include an expansion of the electoral base that elects half the members in order to enfranchise more Emiratis, and having more representatives.

Other proposals include granting the council broader oversight powers in order to hold government bodies accountable and, somewhere down the line, the power to initiate legislation.

Ms al Awadhi spoke in particular of the role of women on the council, saying there should be a “meritocratic quota” for women to ensure that a critical mass of qualified females were on the council.

This would allow them to raise issues that were particularly pertinent to women with greater forcefulness, and without feeling pressured, she said.