LONDON // Voting for the Federal National Council elections was a leisurely affair, conducted over dates and coffee, inside the UAE Embassy in London for the small number of Emiratis who took advantage of being able to cast ballots abroad for the first time on Sunday.
No one had expected a large turnout, with the number of voters in the UK – most on holiday or studying there – a tiny fraction of the 224,279-strong electorate.
The Embassy declined to comment officially but unofficial expectations were for about 50 voters over the two days.
They first appeared 10 minutes after 10am, when polls opened at the Embassy near Hyde Park, one of 94 locations where overseas voting took place on Sunday, ahead of the elections at home on October 3.
Fadel Al Shamsi and Alyal Al Jarwan, from Abu Dhabi, arrived with two-year-old Shamsa. They had been visiting London for a week and were hurrying to vote before they took the Eurostar rail service to Paris. They said they were glad to be able to vote while away from the UAE.
“It’s a huge advantage for us to be able to vote here,” said Mr Al Shamsi.
“We feel it’s very important that we have the chance to choose someone to represent us,” Ms Al Jarwan said. “We wanted to vote for candidates who were young and well educated.”
She said she had been disappointed by candidates who only campaigned on social media and WhatsApp, however, preferring those who held meetings and published campaign literature.
The Embassy laid on traditional hospitality for voters on Sunday. They were received in a majlis and given coffee and dates before being called one by one to vote.
Each voter was issued with a printed list of the candidates and wrote their choice on a ballot paper, which they folded and placed in the ballot box.
Alia Al Suwaidi and Hamda Ali, both 26 and from Dubai, were voting midway through a two-month stay in London.
“The process was very easy,” said Ms Al Suwaidi. “It was very fast.
“I voted for a candidate I had heard speak, because he said he would try to change things, to do something for people.
“He worked for the municipality so I knew his record.”
Ms Ali said one of the issues she hoped to see raised by the FNC was traffic. “We have so much traffic in Dubai, if you want to get anywhere, it’s an hour minimum,” she said.
“It’s too much, this has to change.”
Students living abroad were one of the groups that overseas voting was intended to help.
Salem Alefari, 26, from Al Ain, is overseas studying English and arrived to vote wearing his Manchester City football club top.
“I’m a student and this is the first time I’ve been able to vote,” he said. “It’s a duty for UAE nationals to help the country by voting.”
Others were enjoying the historic moment as well as making their choices.
“I’m very proud to come here and vote for my country,” said Sultan Al Shamsi, 24, from Ras Al Khaimah, who wanted to vote for candidates who would work on housing and education issues.
“I wanted to be one of the first ones who voted abroad.”
After voting, he snapped a souvenir photo of the Embassy.