UAE Federal National Council (FNC) Elections 2011: A Fair Analysis

Mehmood-Ul-Hassan Khan

The 2nd Federal National Council (Parliament) Elections was held on September 24 throughout the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Some 468 candidates along with 86 women contested for half of the 40 seats in the seven Emirates. The final winners notification have already been announced. United Arab Emirates once again created sound and healthy traditions by holding the Federal National Council (FNC) elections in the country. Middle East where people are struggling for achieving democracy, the UAE plans for further democratization is a bold and right step.

Great Opportunity

The FNC elections 2011 offered a chance for all nationals of different age and gender to engage with the diverse processes of democracy and play important role in the decision making process. All regional think-tanks, researchers, academicians and newspapers termed FNC elections as a giant step towards further institutionalization of democratic traditions in the UAE society.

Freedom of People

The citizens of the UAE were free to elect their future representatives. They were free to cast their valuable votes. UAE has its own model for democracy which perfectly suits its macro-economic development which has already produced massive turnaround in its socio-economic prosperity, political articulation and above all rule of the law and the elections 2011 further strengthened this process.

No Discrimination

There was no discrimination against any candidate in the elections 2011. They contested in an evenly manufactured play ground to win elections 2011. All candidates could receive financial support from UAE citizens and local entities throughout their campaigns, but no Foreign aid. All funds should not exceed Dh2 million which was a genuine bar on dollar-cracy in the country. Moreover, all candidates were required to strictly follow the rules and are restricted from negative propaganda and excessive use of money. To mitigate any cynicism each candidate was required to formulate a program of his/her election campaign and get the approval for the same from the NEC.

Greater Public Awareness

The public awareness was rigorously carried out in different parts of the country by conducting purposeful press conferences, seminars and public gatherings. The general atmosphere was electrifying. Eventually, the FNC elections campaigns got immense momentum in all the seven emirates.

UAE Leadership and Elections 2011

It is without saying that the UAE leadership is keen to deliver the benefits of its robust socio-economic development efforts to all emirates of the federation without exception. It is also keen to make this a comprehensive development that includes economic, social, cultural, environmental and political aspects. It undoubtedly, provides functional model of political stability and democratization in the region. Right from the beginning, the UAE adopted steady policy of openness and tolerance which has translated into unshakable political stability and coalescing social harmony in which the Federal National Council’s contribution is paramount.

Now, throughout Middle East people are struggling for achieving sustainable development, employment, better life with the promise to have education, shelter and health care and democracy, the UAE plans for further democratization was a right step towards right direction. It is hoped that FNC elections 2011 in the country would be turning point in its collective national drive of equitable and sustainable development and modernization

UAE: A Dynamic Society

The UAE has a dynamic society which is politically motivated and empowered and the election 2011 was a historic event to wisely pursue the long-term, sustainable economic and social growth. Majority of the candidates were between 30-35 years category that strived to brighten the future of the younger generation of the country for a better UAE society.” It is said in modern political science that an engaged populace is an empowered populace, so FNC elections 2011will engaged members of society for achieving the desired goals.

Main Issues of Elections 2011

Better education, sustainable development, knowledge based economy, employment generation, women empowerment, Emiratisation, housing and qualitative life were the main manifestos of the candidates in the elections.

Rigorous Participation

Notwithstanding, turn out was below expectation, but it was right step towards right direction. The people actively participated in all the seven emirates and cast their votes according to their own free will. The number of voters increased tremendously from 7,000 to 130,000. The UAE society is politically sensible, socially dynamic and economically vibrant which can easily be judged even from its high interests in the Electoral College.

Increase in Electoral College

According to FNC (2011) Electoral College has reached to 129,274 members. Each Emirate has its own electoral college i.e. Abu Dhabi 47,444, Dubai 37,514, Ras Al Khaimah16,850, Sharjah 13,937, Fujairah 6,324 Ajman and Umm Al Quwain 3,920. The 40-member FNC currently has the authority to debate and amend laws, question ministers and discuss the annual federal budget. 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

Details of Contesting Candidates

According to the NEC the final tally of candidates in each Emirate was: Abu Dhabi 117; Dubai 124; Sharjah 93; Ras Al Khaimah 60; Ajman 34; Umm Al Quwain 19 and Fujairah 21. There were four polling booths/ stations arranged in Abu Dhabi, two in Dubai, three in Sharjah and one polling station each in Ras Al Khaimah, Fujairah, Ajman and Umm Al Qaiwain.

FNC Elections 2006

In first elections only 7,000 Emiratis were allowed to vote; in 2011approximately 130,000 Emiratis enfranchised with voting rights. There were 7,757 Emiratis, 6,595 men and 1,162 women turned out to vote in 2006. The composition of the FNC shows that it has 40 members, out of which eight each represent Abu Dhabi and Dubai, six each from Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah, and four each from Ajman, Umm Al Quwain and Fujairah. The Electoral College of each emirate will elect half the members of the FNC from the respective emirate.

Empowerment and further Democratization

UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan termed the Federal National Council (FNC) elections a perfect opportunity to make a major step towards empowerment and further democratization. Addressing the nation ahead of the elections, which were held on September 24, the President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) called upon members of electoral colleges for broad and active participation in the elections so that the real participation can be achieved. He praised the positive role of FNC established in 1972. He also highlighted FNC’s achievements which provided a strong platform for political participation and positive impact on the decision-making process in the country.

Back Democracy Test

Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum strongly stressed the need to back the “democracy test” by actively franchising in the elections 2011. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum called on voters to cast their valuable votes in a civilized and democratic manner by keeping national interests sky-high instead of personal courtesy and affiliation.

He highlighted the importance of massive participation because active and broad participation promotes the concept of national and community participation and partnership, especially that one between the leadership and people.

Greater participation of women

Sheikh Fatima bint Mubarak, Chairperson of General Woman Union, and of Family Development Foundation, emphasized on Emirati woman to exercise her
electoral right in the elections which represented by 46 per cent of total of the Electoral College nationwide. Some 86 women contested the elections.

Meaningful use of advanced technologies

Dr Anwar Mohammed Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Minister of State for FNC Affairs and Chairman of the NEC said, “the expansion of the electoral college in 2011 confirms the leadership’s commitment to move forward and enhance participation of citizens in policy-making in the UAE”. The caravans of greater political participation by the people in decision making, real empowerment drive and freedom ethos envisioned in 2006 by conducting the first FNC elections.

Dr Anwar Mohammed Gargash, said, “Modern technology has changed the pattern of dealing with many issues, including the FNC elections.” By any international standard, candidates were free to use any type of local mass media including informative lectures, conferences and the last not the least social media (Facebook and Twitter), the BlackBerry messenger as well as the more traditional face-to-face approach to communicate for winning the hearts and minds of the UAE citizens.

Different Personal Preferences of the Voters

Most of the female voters examined the candidates’ credentials before casting the vote and were prepared to make a distinction between rosy promises and sincere and valid perceptions of the job at hand. The old generation passionately cast their votes and highlighted the sense of national duty and significance of franchise. The youth played a very important role in the recently held elections by rigorously contesting and then massively participating.

Different Types and Shades of Democracy

Democracy has different types and shades around the globe. But the one thing uniquely common is delivery, upholding of social justice, role of the law and above all respect for the humanity. Democracy stands for quality of life and greater good for the community. It supports tolerance and discourages discrimination. It facilitates socio-economic prosperity and freedom of speech. By any international standard or definition, the United Arab Emirates is the icon of democratic norms and traditions and recently held FNC elections 2011would further strengthen the democratic process in the country.

Expected outcome

It is hoped that outcome of the elections would strengthened the governance process, democratic traditions, and above all decision making mechanism in UAE in the days to come. It seemed that the relations between the people and the rulers have been further strengthened and the election has been a major success. Down the road it will be the foundation for an even wider participation.

The Federal National Council (FNC) 2ND elections 2011 would be milestone in the history of the UAE. It would open new opportunity for the people of UAE to endorse their priorities by casting their votes in the elections 2011. It would also accelerate the democratization process in the UAE.

Democratization Drive

The drive towards democratization has been very tricky and unevenly poised in most of the Western societies. Most of the countries took centuries to reach a universal suffrage, political empowerment, freedom of speech and the building of progressive institutions. Whereas, the UAE since, its inception 1971 has been sincerely trying to have these golden principles of democracy in its country. The FNC elections 2011 were important and forward step and great event for historic celebration. The Western highly projected notions about the Arab Spring could not shake the confidence and trust of the UAE leadership about its vigilant and vibrant youth. The majority of the candidates of FNC elections 2011 i.e. 35 percent were under 30 years old with large participation of women candidates.

Lessons to Learn

The FNC elections in UAE would be a prominent landmark in the process of development and modernization drive. The general response was electrifying and urged of electoral participation was manifold. The major expansion of the electoral colleges for the FNC elections in 2011 confirmed the commitment of the UAE leadership to further promoting political participation and to empower the Federal National Council. The success of the first elections in 2006 created strong awareness and knowledge among UAE nationals, especially on the concerns and processes related to political development. It helped in further highlighting of the UAE’s vision to expand the number of citizens in the electoral colleges.

The outcome of the recently held elections 2011 raised different issues which need to be resolved immediately for further strengthening of empowerment and democratization in the country.

(a) Time for campaign was short (only 17 days) enough to reach out voters and win their hearts and minds.
(b) Interactive arrangements (use of social networking) and facilities (government) failed to convince the voters. A number of patterns in the results point to an obvious fact: traditional social networking was more effective than new communication media such as Twitter and Facebook. Appropriate means to contact potential supporters and actual voters must be revived. Personal interaction would bring more desired results in the days to come.
(c) Massive participation of women in the elections ought to be encouraged and patronized in the country.
(d) Expansion of the Electoral Colleges and turnouts must be priority of the government after which people at large may begin to appreciate the relevance of the FNC. High turnouts would also back the case for the FNC to be given greater powers.

Different electoral system: A Comparative Study

The comparative study of all the ancient political systems of people participation, beginning from walled system of Greece, Pax Romanum of Roman Empire to early Islamic Rashidun Caliphate selection unearths that main aim of governance system is to deliver the good for the common people. It also upholds that governance system must be free from any political dogma, societal stigma, and economic barrier. Democracy is not a fairy tale or queen of happiness, keeping by which one succeeds to achieve socio-economic prosperity. Take the example of China, Brazil, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar where so called highly projected Western Styled democracies are not at work but still these countries have achieved high levels of socio-economic prosperity and sense of security. The so-called democratic countries of the West were responsible for the ongoing global economic recession and financial crunch and the countries mentioned above are the sign and hope of survival for the whole world.

Every country has its own unique system of governance supported by its delivery drive to people at large. So, an election in UAE was a giant step towards grassroots decision making and change was paramount.

Statistical Comparison (2011)

Table-I

Gender breakdown of electoral colleges UAE Percentage %
Male 69,283 53.6
Female 59,991 46.4
Total 129,274 100.0
Source: National Electoral Commission, UAE

Table-I shows the level of women empowerment and active participation in the electoral process and gradual democratization drive in the UAE.

Table-II

UAE Specification Total
National Population 974,997
Total Voting Population & Registered Voters 129,997
Source: National Electoral Commission, UAE

UAE Electoral College by age-group

Table-III

Age Total
21-24 18,728
25-29 31.452
30-34 27.686
35-39 17.992
40-44 13,182
45-49 8.962
50-54 6479
55-59 2722
60-64 854
70-74 353
75-79 205
80-84 130
85 and above 139
Source: National Electoral Commission, UAE

Table-III reflects the different age group and its total tally in the electoral process. Highest participation falls in the age group of 25-29 years. It accounts for 24.4 per cent of the members. The 30-34 age group holds the second position 27,686 members, or 21.4 per cent. The under-40 group carries 74.2 per cent of the membership. There are 130 eligible voters in the 80 to 85 group and 139 in the 85 and above group. Both groups account for approximately 0.1 per cent of the Electoral College each.

UAE Electoral Colleges by in each Emirate

Table-IV

(a) Abu Dhabi

Particulars Total Percentage of Population
Population of UAE Nationals 404,546 41
Eligible Voters 47,444 11.7
Male Voters 22,952 48.4
Female Voters 24,492 51.6

Table-V

(b) Dubai

Particulars Total Percentage of Population
Population of UAE Nationals 168,029 17.2
Eligible Voters 37,514 22.3
Male Voters 19,713 52.5
Female Voters 17,801 47.5

Table-VI

(c) Sharjah

Particulars Total Percentage of Population
Population of UAE Nationals 153,365 15.7
Eligible Voters 13,937 9.1
Male Voters 7237 51.9
Female Voters 6700 48.1

Table-VII

(d) Ajman

Particulars Total Percentage of Population
Population of UAE Nationals 42,168 4.3
Eligible Voters 3920 9.3
Male Voters 2391 61
Female Voters 1529 39
Table-VIII

(e) Umm Al Quwain

Particulars Total Percentage of Population
Population of UAE Nationals 17,482 1.8
Eligible Voters 3285 18.8
Male Voters 2212 67.3
Female Voters 1073 32.7

Table-IX

(f) Ras Al Khaimah

Particulars Total Percentage of Population
Population of UAE Nationals 91,592 10
Eligible Voters 16850 17.3
Male Voters 10,378 61.6
Female Voters 6472 38.4

Table-X

(g) Fujairah

Particulars Total Percentage of Population
Population of UAE Nationals 64,860 6.7
Eligible Voters 6324 9.8
Male Voters 4400 69.6
Female Voters 1924 30.4

The comparative study of the above tables (IV-X) shows that Abu Dhabi has the highest number of eligible voters i.e. 47,444, which makes up a modest 11.7 per cent of the total national population in the country. The overall gender ratio of Electoral College members is slightly in favour of men at 53.6 per cent. It also verifies a vast improvement in the women participation from the last elections 2006 when women constituted just 17.8 per cent of the college.

The highest gender disparity in favour of men is in Fujairah, where women account for just over 30 per cent of Electoral College members, followed by Umm Al Quwain, where they make up just under one-third of the members. Abu Dhabi was the only emirate to have a disparity in favour of women, at 51.6 per cent which is a positive sign.

The FNC elections-2011 reflected a sprouting and historic phase in the political outlook of the UAE. It also testified the vision of President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Since its independence 1971, the UAE has been honestly working on the institutionalization of true and simple democratic norms in the country. The UAE government adopted the principle of selecting half the members of the Federal National Council through indirect elections in 2006.

Meaningful Legislature

The recently initiated legislations have amended some provisions of the Federal Supreme Council’s resolution No. (4) of 2006 concerning the method for selecting representatives to the UAE Federal National Council. Accordingly, H.H. Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan issued Federal Law No. (2) of 2011 amending some provisions of the UAE President’s Resolution No. (3) of 2006 concerning the method for selecting representatives to the UAE Federal National Council.

Objectives

(a) Broadening the base of popular participation in the elections by increasing the number of members of the electoral body.
(b) Greater people’s participation in the political system and decision making.
(c) Strengthening greater reforms in every sphere of governance, politics, civility, economics and legislation.
(d) Empowering the Federal National Council (FNC) and activating its positive role, so as to provide support to the executive.
(e) Supporting greater empowerment drive in the country.
(f) Strengthening of political and social development by preserving social and economic prosperity.
(g) Strengthening the belief among the public that the UAE will precede on this path carefully and gradually.
(h) Mitigating the negative perceptions recently projected in the Arab world.
(i) Further enhancing the UAE political and legislative stability essential for a sustainable development model.
(j) To foster relations between the rulers and to be ruled.
(k) Enabling women to perform their roles and interact within the Council and by extending the Council’s term to four years.

Secretes of Political Philosophies and History

The political philosophy and history of the modern democratic systems reveal a conflicting reality and favours gradual and rationale changes in the governance systems. Shock-therapy, most of the time bring disastrous consequences and encourages upheavals in the countries. Eastern Europe is the classic example of it. Whereas, gradualism and rationalism always brings desired goals of socio-economic prosperity and security. UAE, Qatar, Uzbekistan, and China are the prime examples in this regard. Usually first comes the macro-economic stability and societal cohesion than surfaces political system.

Respect for local talent, indigenous wisdom, traditions, customs and special circumstances ought to be pivotal for onward march towards democratization. No system is perfect. Every system has its pitfalls. Main purpose of any governance system is to deliver and free from any gender, racial and ethnic discrimination and the United Arab Emirates upholds the true spirits of humanity, survival, production, cooperation, social justice and above all welfare spirits. It has already set high standards of stability, tolerance, modernity and cultural identity in the region. So, UAE is on right path and going towards a greater public participation after holding elections 2011 in all its seven emirates.

FNC Evaluation

The experience of the previous FNC was successful. It discussed at least 33 important national issues and projects. The UAE Government approved 70 draft law amendments introduced by the Council, and responded to 200 questions raised by members of the FNC. The representation of women in the Council was over 22 per cent of the total members, reflecting the strong participation of women in the public and political spheres and the active role they play in shaping national dialogue. It passed a crucial public debt law, amended consumer protection legislation and rigorously worked on improving the country’s electrical grid and health services.

Historic Perspectives

There were 7,757 Emiratis, 6,595 men and 1,162 women turned out to vote in 2006. In elections 2011 that would be a nine-fold increase from 2006. Now the legal minimum number of eligible electors is 12,000. In the last elections in 2006, 63 of the 452 candidates were women but only one was elected. However, the 40-member council included nine females in total, because they claimed eight of the 20 appointed seats.

FNC Current Composition (elected)
(2006)
Emirates Total
Abu Dhabi 8
Dubai 8
Sharjah 6
Ras Al-Khaimah 6
Fujairah 4
Ajman 4
Umm Al-Quwain 4
Total 40

It comprises 40 members, with eight members for both Abu Dhabi and Dubai emirates, six members for Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah emirates and four members each for Ajman, Umm Al Quwain and Fujairah. Half of the members are elected, while the other half is appointed as per the decree from the President. The term of membership is four years with effect from the first session. Eligible voters can only vote for candidates in their own emirate. The FNC is not a legislature, but it is evolving as an advisory body. The 20 election winners, along with 20 members selected by the Rulers of the separate emirates, will be able to present their ideas to the UAE’s highest decision-makers, in what is in some ways a modern form of the traditional majlis.

New FNC Composition
(2011)
Emirates Total
Abu Dhabi 4
Dubai 4
Sharjah 3
Ras Al-Khaimah 3
Fujairah 2
Ajman 2
Umm Al-Quwain 2
Total 20

Concluding Remarks

The Federal Nation Elections (FNC) 2011 was a right step towards right direction. It strengthened the process of gradual process of democratization the United Arab Emirates. It gave the chance to government to prepare ground for further political initiatives and the people to be the part of ongoing socio-economic prosperity and decision making. Turn-out was below expectations and reasons of it must be searched out. Sincere efforts should also be made for the greater participation of women in the elections.

Democracy is a continues process which demands greater responsibilities and duties. It evolves around the sustainable development, rule of the law, and social justice. It protects the genuine spirits of civility, rights of the minorities and upholds freedom of speech. It guarantees qualitative life, better education, health and good law and order situation. By al means and international standards, UAE is the country where all above mentioned golden principles of democracy are being followed in letters and spirits and hopefully, the recently held FNC Elections 2011 would further boost the empowerment and democratization drive in the United Arab Emirates in the days to come

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