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

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership 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.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid