Again, I come back to the Federal National Council (FNC) elections — I have some concerns.
Questions are in the air, on Facebook and Twitter. And one of the main queries that should be answered quickly is about the announcement of the elections: Is it a reaction to the Arab uprising? Sorry it is not. It is part of a plan to involve the people of the UAE as per the vision of President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan. His announcement during his National Day speech in 2005 launched the process of participation, a part of the bigger social plan called ‘Al Tamkeen' or ‘To Empower'.
This is the second part of the episode. Having said that, people remark that this is not a complete democracy but a selective one. And we say of course it is not a full democracy. We know that — it is a step forward and it is just the beginning. There are no illusions about it. No one is claiming that it is a full democracy, and we can clear the air and say it is not against the wishes of the UAE people.
Then the question arises that there are people who want a full democracy. The answer is yes there are. There is a handful that wants universal suffrage. But a few hundreds do not represent the UAE people. And unless you run a survey you will not truly know how many want a full democracy. My fear is that if we do run a survey, the majority would say that at this moment of history, we do not want democracy.
Why? Whenever you meet UAE nationals (not talking about the elite and intellectuals), they question democracy in the Arab world - from Kuwait to Lebanon to Egypt to Bahrain and say look what democracy brought them other than fighting, problems and hindrance of growth. These are examples before their eyes.
Let's move on. Then someone will jump and ask: "Do you not want a full democracy?" The answer is: "Of course I do." But the matter is not whether I want or not, the issue is how do I walk the path to a full democracy? Is it just by calling people to polling stations or by educating them so that their whole life is based on sharing, debating and learning democracy? This must start from the family, schools, associations etc on which civil society is built. And we are partly on course. But we need to push more and more on these kinds of practices and build steps towards democracy.
Then another question arises — what is the use of electing people to the FNC if they have no power in the house itself? Moreover, the FNC itself is limited in powers. Again, everybody agrees with this. More legislative power should be given to the FNC. This must happen simultaneously along with empowering people to participate in the poll process. Because without doing that you are not encouraging people to run or elect members to the house. One of the things that should happen in this context is increasing the membership of the FNC from 40 to double the number to reflect the rise in population and give the electorate more choices.
I think this step needs to be taken urgently. Then comes the discussion and demand in the FNC to increase its authority. By doing that we will achieve the Al Tamkeen policy on two fronts — empower people to elect their representatives and empower the representatives to highlight the people's demands.
Another of my worries is that with the expansion of the electoral college, it will be more difficult for the candidates to go through all the names and check who their possible supporters are and who are their possible competitors. This is a concern, especially in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, which have large numbers of people on the rolls of the electoral college. I think they need more time as the elections are on September 24.
Also, the electorate needs more time as all this is happening in two months' time. One has to take into consideration that this is summer, Ramadan is upon us and children will be going back to school, which means the candidates and the electorate will be squeezed for time.
The concern is that the turnout will be very low and will not be a good sign. We have been waiting for these elections for two years, so why not give more time to the candidate and the voter by pushing the poll date to December?
As we finally agree on reaching a democracy step by step, slowly as a nation, we need to see good results from the election. To reach this result, the poll must be postponed.
I am saying this because though it is a positive thing, we all have taken a risk by not only increasing the electoral college from 6,000 members in 2006 to 129,274 today but by also including the majority of youngsters and women, most of whom still do not know their role or the poll process. We are not sure whether they will go to the polls on election day unless they are educated on the importance of the process and voter turnout. We are uncertain about their commitment to elections and democracy.
Hence, the postponement of polls is a must — to guarantee the success of this stage of the episode and to ensure the success of the democratic process.