Abu Dhabi: Six more nominees for the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ADCCI) board of directors withdrew yesterday, bringing the number of candidates for 15 seats in Sunday's election to 79.
Of the three coalitions that have formed since campaigning began in August, only Abu Dhabi First has announced fielding candidates for all available seats.
The Chamber has implemented an advanced electronic voting system at three locations in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain to allow voters to decide on board membership for just the second time in the Chamber's 40-year history.
As of press time, UAE national candidates totalled 67 competing for 13 seats. Twelve expatriots are competing for two seats, while the Abu Dhabi Government is expected to appoint six more members after the election is completed.
"We've finalised our preparations and taken all necessary measures to ensure a smooth election process," said ADCCI Director General Mohammad Al Hameli. "This reflects the importance of this process to the private sector."
The Chamber's membership exceeded 71,000 at the end of the third quarter, compared with 56,000 when it held its first board election in 2005. Membership is mandatory for all Abu Dhabi-registered businesses.
While the majority of candidates are running independently, coalitions have given exposure to others through organised and well-funded campaigns, as is the case with Abu Dhabi First.
The group has taken out full-page newspaper advertisements, in addition to radio spots and the launch of a website. Its platform includes slashing membership fees by 50 per cent in response to small business owners and opening more regional offices for ADCCI to better serve members.
"We're looking to change the traditional role of [ADCCI] to make it more interactive with its members and increase its integration in Abu Dhabi's expanding economy," said Khalfan Al Kaabi, leader and spokesman for Abu Dhabi First.
The group also includes Lulu Hypermarkets Chairman Yousuf Abdul Kader and prominent businessman Omeir Al Daheri.
Future Abu Dhabi, on the other hand, has reaffirmed its commitment to maintaining membership fees but is offering more to its members, including a proposal for a 60-storey office building on the Corniche to serve as ADCCI's headquarters.
Otaiba Al Otaiba, the head of Future Abu Dhabi, said yesterday that Abu Dhabi First's proposal to cut fees is not practical as ADCCI has already tried a 20 per cent cut earlier this year but could only maintain it for seven months. Future Abu Dhabi members include businessmen Mohammad Al Rumaithi and Rashed Al Mazroui.
"Our focus is on encouraging the industrial sector in accordance with the Abu Dhabi 2030 plan," said Al Otaiba. "This can only be accomplished by encouraging small and medium enterprises and facilitating cooperation with larger businesses."
Polls are to open from 8am to 8pm. According to ADCCI rules, at least 25 per cent of its members must take part in the vote or another election will be held on December 21 with no minimum turnout requirement.
A 50 per cent reduction in membership charges and more branches for greater access to members in remote areas are the two key agendas put forward by Abu Dhabi First ahead of today's election.
"Last time was the first time expats were allowed to vote and contest the for ADCCI elections, and being the first expat to be elected to this body has [given] me immense knowledge about both local and international business scenarios. With this knowledge I am [competing in] the elections," Yousuf Ali MA, member of the existing board, said.
"This time we have formed a panel under the name of Abu Dhabi First, with [a] clear ... manifesto — the major issues which we plan to address if elected."
These include, a reduction in membership and service charges; increasing Chamber branches; enhanced active role for the private sector; and providing training and marketing support for small and medium businesses, he said.