Dubai: Despite the online facility to cast their votes from anywhere in the world, several Emirati citizens turned out at polling centres on Wednesday to physically vote for their favourite candidates in the first-ever hybrid form of the UAE Federal National Council (FNC) election.
As early voting began on Wednesday morning, the elderly, people of determination and citizens of different ages from various walks of life visited nine main polling centres in the country to participate in the electoral process to the parliamentary body of the UAE.
At the main polling centre in Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC), voter Mohammed Abdulrahman Rais, 69, said he had voted thrice in FNC elections and missed it once due to travel. “I am excited to vote again,” he told Gulf News.
The senior government employee praised the elaborate facilities arranged to offer a smooth voting experience for the UAE citizens.
“We had special parking space allotted. There were buggies to carry us from the parking lot to the entrance to the trade centre.”
Emirati volunteers guided voters to the polling booth set up in the Al Multaqa Hall in DWTC. After the security clearance, the voters were also guided inside the polling booth.
“I could not register online. So I gave my national ID at the polling station. They registered my details and printed a paper with a QR code.
I had to take it to the voting machine, which is like a kiosk. After the QR code was scanned, my name came up on the screen and I could proceed to select the number of my preferred candidate.”
The entire procedure took less than three minutes, he said.
Volunteers were also seen recording the feedback of the voters.
'Carnival for citizens'
Abdulla Al Shamsi, another government employee, said: “I have voted all four times earlier. This is for the country that we are doing it. It is a special carnival for the UAE citizens. I don’t feel there is any fun in voting online. It is nice to come here and see how everything has been arranged. I wanted to see the candidates and voters. You can’t experience all that while voting online.”
Fatima Mohammed Saeed, 75, was one of the elderly citizens who came to exercise their right to vote even in wheelchairs. She was accompanied by her children. Her son, Ahmed Khalifa, said his mother was happy about getting a chance to participate in the voting procedure.
“She has a problem with her back and hence she needs the wheelchair to go out. She could have used the online facility. But, she still wanted to come with us and vote at the polling booth,” he explained.
Voice of the people
Shehab Gargash, managing director and group CEO of Gargash Group, was among the Emirati businessmen who took time out to visit the polling booth to cast their ballots.
“I have been voting every time. Every time I continue to be impressed by how easy and organised the procedures are,” he said.
He highlighted the importance of voting saying it is a national duty to elect FNC members who are the voice of the people.
“The voice of the people needs a method of being delivered to the authorities and I think the FNC is an effective way to get our voice to the authorities. We have seen the FNC members exactly playing that role and we look forward to very capable candidates to continue to represent our voice to the government.”
First time voter
Representing the youth voters was Omar Mohammed Abdulla. A finance and accounting student at the University of Dubai, Abdulla cast his vote for the first time.
“I am really excited as this is my first time voting in the FNC. I feel proud to do this for our country,” he said.
He added that he was happy about the arrangements made and to see the actual process of election in person.
Centres and candidates
Speaking to Gulf News, Essa Mohammed Khalifa Al Mutaiwei, Chairman of the Dubai Committee for the 2023 FNC Elections, said the Dubai World Trade Centre is the only polling centre for early voting on Wednesday and Thursday.
“On Saturday, the main day of polling, we will have three polling centres,” he added.
Apart from the DWTC, he said Dubai voters can cast their votes at the Hatta Hall in Hatta and the Khawaneej Majlis in Al Khawaneej also on Saturday.
There will be 24 main polling centres across the country on Saturday.
The polling centres are open from 9am to 6pm on Wednesday and Thursday while they will be open from 8am to 8pm on Saturday.
The online voting which also started at 9am on Wednesday, will continue round-the-clock till 8pm on Saturday.
Talking about the impact of the online voting facility, he said: “It is a new experience. We will know the impact by the end of the election.
We had a good turnout in person today. We see it is a good response.”
Dozens of voting machines were placed in the huge hall.
There are 53 candidates in Dubai, according to Al Mutaiwei. According to the National Elections Committee (NEC), a total of 309 candidates including 128 women are contesting this election. The candidates are vying for 20 FNC seats allocated for this year's polls. The federal authority consists of 40 seats and FNC members usually serve four-year terms.
The candidates took turns to visit the polling station throughout the day on Wednesday. They were allocated a designated area to watch the voting procedures. However, they were not allowed to directly interact with the voters. Some voters were seen waving at the candidates and also wishing them good luck as they walked past.
In Abu Dhabi, Saif Ali Al Qubaisi, Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Committee for the Federal National Council (FNC) Elections 2023, confirmed that all polling stations in the emirate of Abu Dhabi, the city of Al Ain and the Al Dhafra Region are ready to receive voters for early voting.
All necessary supplies and preparations have been made to facilitate the voting process, he added.
In his statement to the Emirates News Agency (WAM) on the sidelines of the first day of early voting in the national FNC elections 2023, Al Qubaisi highlighted a good turnout, noting he expects a rise in turnout in the coming voting period.
Early voting will be held at polling stations for two days on October 4 and 5, while remote voting lasts from October 4 to 7.
Abu Dhabi’s polling stations are located in nine centres, which are the Abu Dhabi Energy Centre, Zayed University, Al Hawashim Council, Zayed City Wedding Hall, Giyathi Wedding Hall, Al Sila Wedding Hall, Al Ain Conference Centre, Al Qaqn Wedding Hall and Al Hair Wedding Hall.
The FNC elections represent a milestone in the UAE’s efforts to enhance political participation and enable citizens to actively contribute to the national decision-making process.
This year, the electoral process started with the opening of candidate nominations on August 7. Candidates were able to register for the elections from August 15 to 18. Preliminary results will be announced on October 7. The electoral process will culminate in the announcement of the final list of winners on October 13.