UAE elections: Women candidates sought for landmark FNC vote

The search is on for Emirati women to fill a new 50 per cent quota

FUJAIRAH , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – Sept 9 , 2015 : FNC election poster of Fatima Al Shara on the road side in Fujairah. ( Pawan Singh / The National ) For News. Story by Ruba Haza *** Local Caption ***  PS0909- FNC ELECTIONS01.jpg
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Emirati women are being urged to run for the UAE's advisory body in light of new rules stipulating half of all members must be female.

Male and female candidates from any background who are aged 25 or above are entitled to contest 20 seats in Federal National Council elections held later this year.

During elections in 2015, 78 women campaigned for a seat - though only one was successful.

Many more are expected to run this time around, however, with a total of 20 women set to become political representatives of the seven emirates by the end of the elections this October.

The FNC is comprised of 20 elected members and 20 members appointed by the country's Rulers. The President, Sheikh Khalifa, formally approved plans to ensure 50 per cent of the chamber was female in an announcement last year.

Azza bin Sulaiman, an FNC member in the current session, urged the country to take an active role in the upcoming elections.

Younger representatives have been given prominent roles in government - such as the UAE space agency mission - along with several ministerial posts.

“So we expect them to put their stamp on the parliamentary experience as well," she said.

As with previous elections, the government releases an electoral college for each emirate ahead of the elections. Around one in four UAE nationals were eligible to vote in 2015.

All Emiratis on the list are able to vote for candidates on polling day. They are also eligible to throw their names into the hat to run themselves.

The Ruler of each emirate will also allocate certain seats that can only be filled by women. Once the votes are cast, the Rulers can appoint women to ensure the 50 per cent quota is filled.

In 2015, eight women were appointed to seats, meaning there are currently nine women out of 40 - including the FNC Speaker who is female - in the current chamber.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - - -  March 7, 2016 --- FNC members Alya Al Jassim (left) and Azza bin Sulaiman chat while waiting for the start of the program to celebrate the 44th anniversary of the Federal National Council. The event was held at Emirates Palace on Monday, March 7, 2016, in Abu Dhabi.  ( DELORES JOHNSON / The National )  
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Reporter: Haneen
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FNC members Alya Al Jassim, left, and Azza bin Sulaiman pictured at en event to mark the 44th anniversary of the Federal National Council in 2016. Delores Johnson / The National

Naama Al Sharhan, the only woman who was elected in 2015, plans to run again this year.

“I wasn’t planning to, but I have been receiving many requests from people, so I will run again," said Ms Al Sharhan, who represents Ras Al Khaimah.

Ms Al Sharhan had an active presence in the council, and often summons ministers to the chamber to answer questions of concern.

Coming from a background in the education sector - she started as a teacher before becoming a senior schools inspector at the education ministry - she often pushes for improvements in the field.

She told The National she expected to see more women participating in the upcoming elections.

“Since the announcement was first made, women have become more excited about participating this year," she said.

But she said candidates needed a clear message and plan.

In previous elections, some prospective members have made pledges they cannot deliver. In 2011, one candidate claimed he would secure a job for every Emirati in an advert on the front page of an Arabic-language newspaper.

Another promised to pay off Emiratis' debts. Though the FNC's prominence and role has grown in recent years, it largely debates laws put forward by ministries and requires the backing of Cabinet and the President.

You need to personally convince the voter why they should pick you, not to rely on sending out your message through a brochure

Under election rules, candidates can spend up to Dh2 million on advertisements and other promotions, though Ms Al Sharhan said a personal touch was crucial.

“A candidate’s campaign should be coherent in concept and in practice; the goals need to be clear and you need to personally convince the voter why they should pick you, not to rely on sending out your message through a brochure," she said.

More importantly, she argued, a candidate needed to have a significant role in society before stepping into the broader political field.

“The voter is very smart," she said. "When he or she casts their vote they need to be convinced and have trust in what the candidate is capable of doing."

Fewer than 7,000 Emiratis were eligible to vote in the first elections in 2006, rising to 129,000 in 2011 and 224,000 in 2015. The government is yet to set out how large the electorate is expected to be this year.

Voter turnout has been low and just over 35 per cent of eligible voters cast their ballot in 94 polling centres in 2015. Candidates are hoping to get many more out this year.

Ms Al Sharhan urged Emiratis to "use their power to vote to make the elections a success".

She also called on voters to choose a candidate who they believed would make a real impact, rather than just opting for known individuals with an established background in politics.