Analysis: Six lessons from FNC voting

Khaleej Times
Fecha de publicación: 
12 Oct 2015

Najla Al Rostaman.-

The UAE Federal National Council (FNC) elections is over. There are winners and there were losers. Let's analyse it, because this year it unfolded differently than how it did four years back.

There are certainly a few additions to the process, besides the increase in the number of electoral college and the overall voter turnout. Firstly, voters - and for the first time - were given the option to decline voting for any of the candidates if they deemed that none deserved earning their vote. And for this option, about 340 individuals selected to pass up any choice. While the number is insignificant when placed beside the total number of voters (79,157 out of an electoral college of 225,279), it is still important to take note of. This is because those few hundreds had taken upon themselves to participate in the process as active voters even if their ticked box of choice was blank.

Secondly, there was  great emphasis given to the role of UAE embassies in opening their doors to all voters who happened to be abroad at the time of voting. Travelling Emiratis were encouraged to take part through extensive announcements and facilitation. The significance is not in the total count of who voted while abroad. Instead, it is the fact that almost two thirds of all candidates received one or more votes from overseas.

Yet perhaps the most interesting new element that was introduced in this year's elections is the three-day voting period during which voters were allowed to cast their votes before the final October 3 general elections day. The significance stems from the fact that about 48% of all voters had cast their vote during this period. This means that 37,663 out of 79,157 voters were actively feeding the touch screen monitors of the ballot box. One of the implications of this is that in future, if such periods are extended, perhaps more people would be encouraged to go out and vote.

Now one of the most insightful outcomes of the elections is the fact that a single female candidate managed to gather enough votes to earn a seat at the FNC. This is not a first though when compared to the 2011 elections. Even then only one female candidate had won. While this year's electoral college was split, more or less, equally between male and female eligible voters, it was male voters who made it a point to show up to cast their vote at the ballot box - 61% of all voters.

But when one looks more closely at each emirate, a variation emerges between how both genders voted. For example, in Abu Dhabi voters were split almost equally between both genders. But in Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman and Umm Al Quwain, the number of male voters have overtaken their female counterpart by no less than 60%. In Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah, female voters constituted a mere third of all voters.

But having more women voting in some emirates did not necessarily guarantee that a female candidate would triumph the race. Regardless of the fact that 22% of all candidates were women, none had managed to secure a clear and decisive majority. The only exception is the lone candidate from Ras Al Khaimah who came as a victorious third runner up in the emirate. Fascinatingly, only a third of RAK voters were females and almost 70% of all voters were below the age of 40.

If anything, the gender divide may not be as much of an issue as it is thought to be when it came to candidates' ability to lure voters. For example, women made up about 40% of all of Dubai's voters, while female candidates constituted a sizable 35% of all candidates - the highest amongst all the emirates. But none of the runners locked enough votes to make it to the top ten candidates who received the maximum number of votes.

Furthermore, there are other emirates where the prospective of another female candidate being able to bag the seat was plausible. In Sharjah for example, the fourth runner up was a woman. And if she had attained an extra seventy five or so votes, she would have clearly been the second possible female candidate to lead in the ballots.

Votes were obviously thwarted, one way or the other, something that made some candidates lose by only a handful of votes. This is due in part to the fact that many candidates received a minuscule number of votes in single or at best double digits. And this kind of dilution of the votes supports the fact that winners had secured a comfortable number of them. For example, in Abu Dhabi, the top winner received only 6% of the total number of votes. In real numbers it means that he managed to secure a decisive 2,167 votes out of a total of 35,046. Other emirates also followed a similar trend. In Dubai though, it was a different scenario. The lead winner secured an impressive 17.6% of the total number of votes - the highest percentage as such amongst all the emirates.

To learn more about voters' attitudes and what influences their decision at the ballots will only support an evolution of the process. It would be interesting for instance to survey the electoral college to find out why some had voted while others refrained, whether a candidate's gender, age or name made any difference to their decision, which mode of communication they had relied on to know more about candidates, whether they found it easy or challenging to source information on the candidates, and to what extent a certain program had influenced - or not - their ultimate choice.

Each session of the electoral process lends itself a new element;  it is a step in the right direction. Consciousness of the elections has grown and will develop further. Eventually, a fully-fledged electoral college will metamorphose in the coming years whereas the elections will be defined by cut throat fighting of the best of the best for the good of the rest. And it is this consciousness and enthusiasm that will feed a larger sense of responsibility of upcoming generations; something that will one day mould the UAE into a global player in the electoral process.