Members of the Federal National Council (FCN), the country’s “legislative” body, have expressed serious concern the government has not yet announced plans to hold elections when the partially elected body’s term runs out early next year.
Members of the FNC have said uncertainty was being fuelled by the fact the government has not issued an electoral law. There is no law that stipulates when elections are held. The first elections in 2006 were guided by an official framework.
Most new laws are discussed by the FNC before they are approved by the president. In some cases, mainly when the council has been on its summer break, laws have been enacted without the approval of the advisory body, irking many of its members. FNC members fear that the government plans to approve an electoral law while the FNC is in recess.
Half of the 40-seat council, which was created in 1972, was selected by a caucus of 6,689 citizens in the country’s first elections in 2006. The other 20 members were appointed by the federal government. The FNC’s original two-year term was extended by two years in 2008, but since then the Government has not said when – or if – new elections would be held. After the first election in 2006, the Supreme Council, which is comprised of the Rulers of the seven emirates, amended the constitution to extend the council’s term to four years from two and give its members the right to discuss foreign treaties should the president ask them to do so.
March 11, 2010
Analysis and Forecast: Increasing Risk
The UAE ranks with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Oman in being almost totally undemocratic. Like those countries, its local population, which is a minority, is relatively homogeneous, though with significant local Shiites. There were no issues of ethnic tensions within the local population, except minor occasional incidents that are often quickly contained. The UAE is however unique in that it is a federation of seven emirates. The ruling families of those emirates often compete against each other, with Dubai and Abu Dhabi often in political conflict. However, these conflicts and disagreements have been between the ruling families and the local population has almost no say in local politics.
There have been increasing demands to introduce participatory democracy to the UAE and the 2006 partial elections of the FNC, which has almost no real power, were measures to address those demands. However, with the government not proceeding with the plans and largely unprepared to bring in further reforms to the political debate, unrest is rising quickly. The government’s position has been that the UAE is still not ready for democracy, with senior members of the government saying that the UAE population is “politically immature”. This position is convenient to the ruling families of the UAE who form the Supreme Council and are in no position to relinquish any of their powers. However, for the first time, demands for introducing democracy have publically increased. The government is still not adequately responding and therefore risks spilling those demands to the population. This has never happened in the brief history of the UAE before, but the growing dispute could lead to the UAE’s first widespread episodes of civil unrest. The financial crisis and collapse of Dubai have particularly led to increasing criticism against the ruling families.
Besides the local population, there are increasing demands by the majority of the population, who are expatriates but have very limited rights. Even those who have lived in the UAE for decades and have been instrumental in the growth of the UAE have no residency rights, let alone in government. Demands by the expatriate population, particularly long-term residents, for greater rights will likely accompany demands by the local population. The government has therefore no option but to quickly introduce political reforms and allow the participation of the expatriate population as well, or risk facing increasing demands and threats of civil unrest.