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

Nigeria Incumbent in Tight Spot as Poll Nears

Muhammadu Buhari is running a strong challenge to Goodluck Jonathan, amid a faltering economy and Boko Haram security worries More

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo tells VOA that despite her fame, life is still a struggle as she waits for government's promise of support to arrive More

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

At least seven different indigenous groups in Ratanakiri depend mainly on forest products for their survival, say they face loss of their land, traditional way of life 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.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More