News / Middle East

UAE Presses Ahead With Elections

UAE Presses Ahead With Elections
UAE Presses Ahead With Elections

As calls for democracy continue to ring throughout the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates has begun preparations to hold its biggest ever election, vowing it is committed to reform.  The government recently increased the number of eligible voters for the country’s legislature-the Federal National Council (FNC) to 80,000, up from under 7,000 during the last election.

Earlier this week, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Mohammed Gargash confirmed plans to allow more citizens to vote over the coming years until all Emiratis above a certain age are eventually given the right.

"We've always said that the UAE's political program is a continuous program to modernize political participation," he said. "We have said all along that it will be in many, many incremental steps."

Gargash suggested that while plans for reform were in the pipeline before the start of the Arab Spring, regional unrest had prompted the dramatic boost in voter numbers.

Election process

On September 24, the eligible voters will elect half of the 40-member FNC. The rulers of the seven emirates will chose the remaining 20 representatives.

The UAE is the world’s third largest oil-producer and is made up of seven sheikhdoms with Abu Dhabi as its capital.

While the nation has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world, the five northern emirates of Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al-Quwain, Ras al-Khaimah and Fujairah have a noticeably lower standard of living than Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Vehicles queue for petrol at an EPPCO gas station in Dubai, UAE, June 23, 2011
Vehicles queue for petrol at an EPPCO gas station in Dubai, UAE, June 23, 2011

Power and gas shortages have resulted in rolling blackouts in the north, which also has a history of slow economic development and suffers from relatively high youth unemployment.  

With the potential for unrest most likely to come from this area, the government decided in March to invest $1.6 billion in local infrastructure projects.

Increasing the FNC’s electorate is seen as another attempt to appease northern residents.

Critics have played down the significance of the increase, however, saying it is irrelevant unless the body is given more decision-making power. And, the revised electorate still only comprises less than a tenth of the total population.

Significant change?

Christopher Davidson, a Middle East analyst at Durham University, says the move is unlikely to bring about any significant change.

"This is just the latest layer of window dressing that the regime is trying to add to give itself more accountability with its people, but perhaps more importantly, greater accountability in the international community. This is more of the liberalized autocracy model than a genuine democracy that represents the people," he said.

The FNC does not have any real legislative power, but rather provides an advisory function, submitting recommendations that may or may not be implemented. Like all legislative bodies in the Gulf region, ultimate control rests with the ruling families.

Earlier this year, the United States and its NATO allies praised the Emirates for its work in enforcing the U.N.-sanctioned no-fly zone over Libya. But while the nation continues to play a “critical” role in helping pro-democracy rebels in the North African nation, closer to home it has been active in thwarting the democracy movement in neighboring Bahrain.

Davidson says any future public demand for political reform within the UAE’s borders will not be tolerated.

Emirati blogger and human rights activist Ahmed Mansour speaks during a press conference in Dubai, UAE, January 26, 2011
Emirati blogger and human rights activist Ahmed Mansour speaks during a press conference in Dubai, UAE, January 26, 2011

"I think that any opportunity that can be taken to clamp down on genuine presses for democracy [in the UAE] will be taken. We've already seen that with the rather extreme step of arresting a range of political prisoners including academics, bloggers and human rights activists," he said.

While the UAE has been spared the uprisings seen in other parts of the region, 130 prominent members of society signed a petition in March calling for constitutional and parliamentary changes, free elections and a more equitable distribution of the country’s oil wealth.

Five of the signees were later arrested and are currently on trial for posing a threat to national security.

'More controversial' approach

Samer Muscati, a Middle East researcher for the New York-based Human Rights Watch, says the action comes at a time when widespread unrest in the region is making UAE authorities extra weary.

"It's a different tone than what we've seen in the past and I think the UAE is definitely acting in a decisive and a more controversial manner than it has in the past. We hope that the UAE authorities will realize that this approach is incorrect and that they will stop this campaign," he said.

At the first hearing of the five activists earlier this month, dozens of demonstrators gathered to show their support for the government, denouncing the accused as traitors.

It served as a reminder of just how popular the country’s rulers are among most of the population, and how UAE authorities are likely to press on with their distinctly Emirati-style of democracy without much objection.

Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

Despite Western concerns that IS militants are preparing a Jordanian offensive, analysts call the kingdom's solid intel a strong deterrent More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s Century-Old House Falling Apart

One of the most fascinating people in U.S. history was Quanah Parker, the last chief of the American Indian tribe, the Comanche. He was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Parker was a fierce warrior until 1875 when he led his people to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and took on a new, peaceful life. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Cache, Oklahoma, Quanah’s image remains strong among his people, but part of his heritage is in danger of disappearing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid