FNC roadshow turns its attention to social media in campaign

Committee member reassures electorate on use of Facebook.

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DUBAI // Members of the electorate for this year's FNC election asked organisers last night to explain the rules governing the use of social media in campaigning.

People eligible to vote turned out at an FNC information session in Dubai to pose questions to members of the National Election Committee (NEC).

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"Is it an offence if we announce our intention to campaign prior to the dates set out in the election programme, and what about those who voice their desire through Facebook or BlackBerry?" one asked.

Dr Mohammad Butti Al Shamsi, the NEC member who answered the audience's queries, responded: "To announce your desire to campaign and to share that with those you know is not a breach of the rules.

"The offence is when there are signs that you are campaigning through brochures, posters and advertisements in public places, for example."

Young people present at the information session expressed their interest in running for election.

"I came to get an idea about the programme so I can start campaigning," said Siham Al Falahi, 25.

"I actually got lots of information on the website already and found it extremely informative and useful, but perhaps today they will be able to clarify other matters."

Sisters Maryam and Shamsa Al Falasi were interested in finding out about the stages leading up to the elections.

"The most important thing at this stage is to utilise this opportunity to develop an understanding of what our rights are as voters in the electoral college and to find out what the next stages in the process will bring," said Maryam, 29, who works in corporate communications.

"I am going to campaign as a future member of the FNC."

Shamsa, 27, a corporate banker, also hopes to run for election but with a different platform.

"I am here to understand the next steps to run for the elections," she said. "I want to know what the criteria for short-listing is and what is required of us to campaign."

Ali bin Damithan, 38, voted in 2006. This time he plans to run his own campaign.

"This is my second time to be part of the electoral college," Mr bin Damithan said. "I did not campaign in 2006 but I did vote, and now I feel capable since I have a few more years of experience and have a lot to contribute.

"I hope that the other candidates will study issues and work on them efficiently to make a difference."

Among the audience's other concerns were supervision and measures that could curb bribery and vote manipulation.

"If a person has information on this they can approach the emirate's committee," said Dr Al Shamsi.

"They should also present the evidence that they have and both the committee and the National Election Committee will address this issue with the campaigner."

Dr Al Shamsi assured voters that if evidence of such practices was brought to the attention of the committee, it would be addressed promptly.

Members persisted with questions on the issue, demanding to know what forms of auditing and supervision would be put in place.

"If there is an allegation against someone that they paid bribes to any of the voters, as such complaints are usually made by other campaigners, then they need to provide evidence and there is no doubt that the NEC will use its role to enforce the necessary punishment," Dr Al Shamsi said.

One of the voters at the meeting suggested candidates should take an oath to adhere to the rules before starting their campaigns.