Abu Dhabi: Lively, outgoing and daring schoolchildren in the UAE will be given a unique opportunity to bring about the change they want as election campaigns and voting are around the corner for them.
All are too young to vote in the country’s parliamentary elections, but thousands of young people will be eligible to elect a 54-member youth parliament made up of primary and secondary school pupils across the country, with all the pomp and ceremony resident in any other parliamentary election process in the world, according to officials from the Federal National Council and the Ministry of Education.
The Ministry of Education will oversee elections at the start of the next school year scheduled for September and results will be announced within the same month, said Kenez Al Abduli, the ministry’s student counselling director.
The legislative term is to last one academic year and starts two weeks after the elections, going into recess one month after the school year, Al Abduli said.
“The Ministry of Education will draft an election law including campaigning, election administration, and candidacy and voting rights,” she said.
The country will follow similar experiences of Britain, Scotland and even Europe, which already have such youth or school parliaments established.
Ali Mehad Al Suwaidi, acting undersecretary of the ministry, who inked a memorandom of understanding with FNC Secretary-General Dr Mohammad Al Mazroui, said the school parliament initiative was meant to promote political participation by allowing students to have their say on issues regarding education and the community. “The move underlines the commitment of the UAE and its leadership to further promoting political participation in the UAE,” he said.
The youth parliament electoral pool accounts for nearly 50 per cent of the UAE’s Emirati population, while 129,000 or 13 per cent of Emiratis were eligible to vote in and run for the Federal National Council’s elections in 2011 as the process of citizen’s participation in UAE politics is still in its nascent stages and continues to develop gradually.
Al Suwaidi said the school parliament will provide a platform for exchanging views, fostering values of loyalty to the homeland, promoting community culture and values, encouraging explicit expression of points of view, sharpening skills of thinking, understanding and respect of each other’s stances, enriching students’ Arabic language and speech-giving skills and nurturing the culture of dialogue among students themselves and between them and officials.
The students would get public debate and dispute-resolution training, he said.
There would be committees on education, culture, media and communications, the environment and sustainable development, youth and sports, scientific research, law, political affairs and international relations, and health and housing. While the full sessions would be held at the FNC building in Abu Dhabi, committees would be able to hold their sessions in other emirates, Dr Al Mazroui said.
The young MP would have the right to demand a public debate and an urgent statement on a specific issue, he said.
Dr Al Mazroui said the FNC would chart by-laws regarding school parliamentary session and deliberation.
The European Youth Parliament has attracted an average 300 young people from 30 countries around Europe, while the UK’s parliament, formed in 2000, has 600 members made up of young people aged between 11 and 18, voted in by more than 500,000 of their peers each year.