Candidates running for the Federal National Council (FNC) elections will launch their campaigns Sunday and we hope that the poll process will receive that much-needed boost.
So far everything seems to be very quiet — as if nothing important is happening in the country. Usually, when there are elections, as we have seen in neighbouring countries and beyond, there are a lot of activities, lectures, media reports and debates on the polls, candidates and manifestos. There is enthusiasm in the air.
But nothing like this has happened until now in the UAE. Even the media, be it newspapers, television and radio stations, have kept silent except for a few articles here and there, which have gone unnoticed. And, while there is news about the FNC elections, it is buried in the inside pages. Readers can hardly feel elections are round the corner. We have failed in the media to create that feeling and atmosphere about this important, historical event in the country.
I, sometimes, despite being the editor-in-chief of a big newspaper in the UAE, do not understand this. We go big while covering elections in other countries be it in Kuwait, Bahrain, Lebanon, the UK, US, India and Pakistan to name a few, devoting full pages for weeks and months to reports, analysis, opinions and pictorials.
We profile candidates, highlight manifestos and cover stories in the front pages with extensive reporting inside. In some cases, we even send our reporters to these countries to cover their elections. Then, why is our media not enthusiastic about polls in the UAE like they are when elections are held in other countries?
I honestly have no answer. Is it because there is not much information coming through? Is it because people are too conservative to talk about it in the UAE? Is it because the media has no access to information or is the media conservative? Is it because the people are not very enthusiastic about the process and do not care if the stories are being reported because reports are going unnoticed?
The answer might be a combination of all these factors. But most probably it lies in the fact that the election committee itself and the media are not putting in the effort required to make the elections noticeable and ensure the message reaches the people.
A real opportunity for debate and participation in elections has been lost. Elections in any country, I assume, are held to raise through debates consciousness, awareness and knowledge among people on key issues, be it social, political or economical. It is the right platform for national debate. But nothing of this sort has happened in the UAE. There have been no debates so far.
Being an enthusiast myself and a dreamer, I hope that from today with the candidates starting their campaigns, there will be a buzz and debates will be conducted — awareness about the elections will run through the veins of society.
Over the next 20 days, the time-frame given for campaigning, candidates will have the opportunity through their majlises, tents, posters, booklets, advertisements, lectures and press conferences to not only talk about their manifestos but to show how knowledgeable and mature they are to raise healthy debates on issues concerning the FNC elections.
Pledges and commitment
Promises will not work much for them to gain voter support because people know that it is not in the hands of the FNC to make pledges come true. But certainly good candidates can promise that through their commitment, knowledge and determination they can make a difference in the performance of the FNC.
And I wish these candidates, the National Election Committee and the media will be more open about issues relating to the elections, candidates and manifestos. I hope they will be less conservative while tackling these issues.
By doing so, the process will give much more substance not only to the media but also to the people in the UAE, whether they are in the Electoral Colleges or not. And this, in fact, is one of the main purposes of the UAE Government when it chose to go step-by-step into political participation — involving and engaging people in dialogue and spreading awareness among them.
Certainly, the media has a bigger role to play in fulfilling this goal if it is given that open avenue and the people are encouraged to come out of their shells and get involved in this critical process positively. Elections need passion, commitment, awareness and positive people, not careless citizens.
Today, as we kick off the campaign, we want to see real election fever grip the media, majlises and homes because without this fever, which will make us quiver with excitement, an election will flow quietly away and will not move stones forward.