A group of ladies register their votes at a polling station in Ras Al Khaimah during the FNC elections. Image Credit: Pankaj Sharma/Gulf News

There is no doubt the Federal National Council (FNC) elections held on September 24 represented a turning point in the modern history of the country. The polls that took place late last month represented the second elections in a process that was first implemented by a presidential decree in 2006 of President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, as a means of political empowerment of the UAE people.

This visionary process needs to be pondered upon by all local, regional and international observers. It increased the number of voters in the Electoral College more than 20 fold. It also took into consideration two important categories of the UAE society, youth and women. This was in addition to other decisions made by the National Elections Committee.

One decision that must be highlighted was the ceiling on the amount each candidate could spend on media and advertising. This decision was extremely fair and would help young candidates and those who are less privileged to find their way to the FNC.

We must admit that popular Emirati response to the FNC elections was not up to the expectations of the UAE leadership. The modest and low turnout on the part of the voters was due to the consultative role the FNC has played all these years. However, the popular demand to boost the FNC role and the leadership's willingness to give the FNC a substantial and a supervisory role in the government will catalyse UAE Electoral College in particular and Emirati nationals in general to play a more interactive role in the election process.

Serious engagement on the part of UAE nationals in the FNC elections would represent a collective desire that would show to the leadership the UAE nationals' willingness to engage further in the political process, and would pave the way for general parliamentary elections.

Like the previous elections, there are certain aspects that must be addressed in the current FNC and the elected members whose appointments are made by electoral college since the beginning of the political empowerment programme. The current council, like the previous one, has witnessed the victory by an Emirati woman in the elections. However, the UAE government decided to appoint another eight female members out of the 20 members appointed by the individual emirates. Thus the UAE Council had one of the world's highest women's parliamentary representation (22.5 per cent).

The desire by the UAE leadership to grant a bigger role to women is already seen in every facet of UAE society. A look at the number of UAE women pursuing their university studies here and abroad, outnumbering male students, easily explains the growing role Emirati women can and will play in the development march the UAE has been witnessing for the past four decades.

According to studies, Emirati women represent 59 per cent of the total workforce in the government and there are now four women as ministers in the federal government. Add to that 46 per cent of the voters in the current Electoral College were female.

Empowerment

We are confident that the UAE leadership will continue to build on the achievements of the nation and that would focus on the strong ties between the leadership and the people.

Such relations between the leadership and the Emiratis have always led to open discussions that have been known as "shura-cracy". In the UAE, the Rulers' majlises which have always been kept open to citizens play the role of mini parliaments where issues of all Emiratis are tackled, monitored and even solved. The majlises existed even before many nations even knew about legislative councils or parliaments.

The gradual development of the UAE experience and the promotion of UAE nationals' political participation by expanding the electoral college and number of voters could pave the way for full elections soon.

Vision of integration

This is why the FNC elections can be considered as a milestone in the history of the UAE and also boost the relationship between the leadership and people. It also comes as an illustration of the UAE leadership's vision of integration of the nation's establishments by pumping young blood into government organisations and establishments.

The bottom line is that all Emiratis men and women, whether listed or not in the current Electoral College, have the right to celebrate this landmark and to appreciate this remarkable achievement of the UAE.

This will open the doors to further political empowerment with the FNC elections in the country outlining a better future for generations to come.