A record number of women are running for seats on the United Arab Emirates' legislative body, the Federal National Council. The country’s National Election Committee has released a preliminary list of 469 candidates, of which 85 are female.
The United Arab Emirates has made a number of reforms to this year’s election process in light of the widespread civil unrest gripping the region.
Last month, the number of eligible voters was raised to about 130,000 from the less than 7,000 during the first poll in 2006. Women now account for 46 percent of the electorate.
Speaking last week at the candidate registration center in Dubai, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Mohammad Gargash said he was “very pleased” with the number of female applicants this year and said election preparations are on track.
"In 2006 we were very organized, but I think this year we are even more organized and I think the process is going very well," he said.
Polls will open across the country on September 24.
Voters in each of the seven emirates that make up the UAE will elect half of the 40-member Federal National Council. The nation’s rulers will choose the remaining 20 representatives.
The council 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 lies with the ruling families.
Nevertheless, Gargash says many UAE nationals believe participating in the council elections is an important part of the country’s slow process of democratic reform.
"Many of them have this ambition to participate regardless of what the results are," said Gargash. "Even if they feel it is going to be a difficult election for them because there are other more qualified candidates, they still want to participate and I think that is very encouraging."
Mohammed al-Bakri from Dubai is running for election, but says he is not concerned about winning or losing.
"It is something new happening in the UAE and somebody has to push it," said Bakri. "Participating is number one, whoever reaches there [wins], hopefully is the best."
Female political participation is a relatively new phenomenon in the Gulf Arab states.
In the past UAE election, one woman was elected to the FNC. The government appointed eight others.
Women are allowed to run for office in Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman, however, the electoral commission in Saudi Arabia announced earlier this year that women would not be allowed to run or vote in the kingdom’s long-delayed municipal elections, scheduled to be held next month.
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