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Federal National Council marks 44th anniversary

posted on 12/02/2016: 1385 views

The late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father of the UAE, once appealed to the Federal National Council to bring him and the government to account if the House found any failure in carrying out their duties.

That was only three years after the House was set up in 1972.

"My brother Speaker … my fellow members of the (Federal National) Council, I am pleased to be with you and speak with you frankly.

"Please members of the council and speaker of the Council, if you found any failure (on the part of the Government) to carry out obligations towards citizens, do not hesitate to put questions to members of the government and to the Prime Minister and to me in particular. I am ready to talk with you at any time, and if there is any failure, I will tell you about the reasons, and if I had asked you frankly, I also pledge to be frank with you at all times ... Thank you,” Sheikh Zayed told the first Speaker of the House, Thani Bin Abdullah Bin Humaid on April 29, 1975.

Sheikh Zayed was setting up a future parliamentary democracy. Forty-four years ago, on February 12, 1972, Sheikh Zayed, along with Rulers of the Emirates, made history by inaugurating the House to fulfil the constitutional requirements.

Today, as the FNC marks its 44th anniversary, Dr Amal Al Qubaisi, Speaker of the Council, says the UAE's parliamentary experience is proceeding on the right track in keeping with the empowerment programme launched by President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan in 2005.

The move, she said, was adopted with full national will, to deepen political participation, citing elections in 2006, 2011 and 2015 and expanding the electoral pool to elect half of the members of the House.

The FNC Speaker pledged that the House will continue to assume its role in supporting comprehensive stability and sustainable development in all areas.

The UAE took giant strides towards universal suffrage in the 2015 FNC elections as it included the single-vote system and other landmark reforms.

The nation has, over the past decade, laid the foundation for universal suffrage — that is, the right of every citizen aged 18 to vote.

The 2015 parliamentary elections on October 3 last year — the third in the nation's history — saw, for the first time, a single-vote system, a judge to lead the panel that heard appeals, overseas ballots, and a wider awareness campaign to improve turnout.

The parliamentary process started as early as 2006, when the first electoral pool of about 7,000 Emiratis was selected to vote. The number was small compared to the population of Emirati citizens, which amounts to a million people. But because at the time a database of eligible Emiratis voters wasn't available, some of the Emiratis appearing on the electoral rolls in 2006 were not strictly eligible — in fact, they were later found to have died.

But in 2011, the introduction of the Emirates ID programme dramatically changed this picture; a database of Emiratis eligible to vote became available, and could be used to allow even more Emiratis to vote.

In the second round of FNC elections, about 130,000 Emiratis were granted voting rights, an increase of about 18-fold. But turnout was not as expected: whereas in the first round, more than 74 per cent of the selected electoral pool voted, in the second round the number declined to under 30 per cent, seemingly indicating a loss of interest in voting. University professors, notably, did not make the cut and almost none of them was granted the right to vote. Excluding opinion leaders contributed to the lowered turnout, as did the lack of campaigning to raise awareness.

Last year's elections, however, witnessed a wider awareness campaign to educate the people about the vital role of the FNC and instill the culture of democracy in them. More polling stations have been set up across the country, making it easier for voters to cast their ballots, and if voters happened to live outside the UAE, overseas ballots — also introduced last year — allowed them to lodge their ballots as well.

Dr Anwar Mohammad Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Minister of FNC Affairs, has told the council during a discussion on the country's election last year.

The 2015 election for FNC was a big boost to the parliamentary elections process in the region with more than 224,000 eligible Emirati voters to elect 20 representatives of the 40-member House.

A single-vote policy was also introduced, allowing each voter to vote for one candidate in his emirate.

Previously, voters were allowed to vote for as many as half the number of seats from their respective emirates. A voter from Abu Dhabi, for instance, could vote for four candidates, as the capital city holds eight seats in the Council. As a result, three out of four candidates voted in from Abu Dhabi were from the same tribe; their kin could vote for all three of them simultaneously. To boost confidence in the elections process, a judge headed the appeals committee which investigated the complaints of candidates.

Now the scene is set for universal suffrage — which has been in the works for about a decade, a philosophy of "gradual progress” the UAE adopted to initiate democratic practices at a steady pace, and in doing so, stave off the turbulence fellow Arab states were plunged into when they undertook this same process.

The UAE's conviction is that change does not accommodate haste, and that careful, gradual planning does not preclude impressive results; on the contrary, ambitious but ill-thought out strategies could be detrimental to a country's stability.

Ali Jasem Ahmad, a veteran member of the House from Umm Al Qaiwain, said last year's polls rules were indicative of the UAE Government's desire to promote greater participation and transparency in the FNC elections.

Stressing that the FNC has shown its determination to become more effective in the present legislative term, with ministers being called to account and with a raft of proposals for new legislation, Jasem said once voters believe the House is doing a great job, they are more likely to participate in the elections and vote. – Gulf News -


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