Local committees seek greater freedom in FNC elections

At the third political awareness forum, held at UAE University, officials discussed the powers of local election committees.

From left, Dubai election committee member Mohammed Al Suwaidi, Federal National Council member Marwan bin Ghalita, and Mansour bin Nasser, former head of the Sharjah election committee, in a panel discussion at the Ministry of FNC Affairs’ political awareness forum yesterday. Ravindranath K / The National
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AL AIN // Local election committees should have the power to penalise candidates for campaign breaches at next year’s FNC election, a forum has heard.

The Ministry of State for FNC Affairs held its third summit on political awareness at UAE University yesterday.

Officials from local election committees said that although no breaches were committed by the 450 candidates in the last elections, mistakes were made.

Mansour bin Nasser, former head of the Sharjah election committee and an official from the Ruler’s Court, called on the ministry to give local committees the power to penalise candidates without the higher committee’s approval.

“There were no violations,” Mr bin Nasser said. “For us to label them as a violations would mean they were intended.

“But these mistakes made by the candidates were not intended and were just the result of little awareness.”

He said some candidates held a forum without the local committee’s knowledge, or advertised in undesignated areas.

“We want the power to remove an advertisement if found in the wrong place without needing to refer back to the higher election committee,” Mr bin Nasser said.

“By the time we do and the higher election committee studies the complaint, the elections could be over. The whole election process was around three weeks.

“We hope next time we have the power to penalise candidates.”

Mohammed Al Suwaidi, member of the Dubai election committee and a legal adviser, said some candidates planned to exceed the Dh2 million spending cap.

“After we received candidates’ spending and media plans, we studied some of them and investigated how much it would need,” said Mr Al Suwaidi.

“In some cases they exceeded Dh2m, so we told the candidates and they modified their plans.

“We were very keen not to penalise anyone.”

The committee was legally unable to penalise anyone, but on election day it came close to disqualifying a candidate who continued to campaign.

Election rules state candidates must stop all campaigning 48 hours before election day.

Mr bin Nasser said this was to allow voters the time and space they need to make a decision for whom they would vote.

“This is to ensure equal opportunity for all candidates,” he said.

The election regulators did not go into detail on any of the candidates’ campaigns.

But Tariq Lootah, undersecretary of the ministry and a member of the National Election Committee, said candidates needed to read about the FNC and become educated about their powers before running.

Mr Lootah said that candidates could not enlist “dreams” without knowing the council’s role, and that the ministry would study introducing training in the future.