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Election campaigns without a beat

With less than a week to go for the Federal National Council (FNC) polls, we can say that we have not heard the loud beat of drums on the streets heralding the elections.

Out of the 124 candidates in Dubai, only about 20 have been active, but within limits, engaging the voters through different channels. They have advertised in newspapers, canvassed through social media and also made direct contacts, but the rest have stayed silent. This makes me wonder why then did they nominate themselves in the first place if they were not willing to work to gain votes.

Read more: In Focus | FNC Elections

One can infer that some just want to run for elections for the sake of it and not for a real cause. They do not have the motivation and the drive to reach out to the people. Until today, we have not seen a single candidate willing to withdraw and leave the fray to the real horses running the race.

However, what we have seen of the campaigners is that the majority have been hasty and unprofessional. Many have been confused and only a handful have been focused on their mission.

In fact, some candidates have gone very far with their promises to a point they have turned the campaign into a farce. One candidate, for example, has endorsed education, Emiratisation, health and women's and children's issues. The list goes on and on till he ends his manifesto with "etc, etc". This is a clear example of an unprofessional campaign and a candidate who does not know his target.

We have seen some of the candidates at work because they have advertised in newspapers and networked through social media, but we are in the dark as far as the others are concerned because they have not been visible. Were they sleeping? It might be that some of these candidates think calls to their close family members and friends will guarantee a win. Good for them.

I must stress that we must not blame these candidates, both the active and the passive, because designing, launching and managing campaigns is a new exercise. Add to that they have not received any assistance from the authorities to help them run more effective campaigns. I have also heard of some campaigners complaining of too many restrictions imposed on them, which has limited their manoeuvres to campaigning through newspapers, social networks and text messages only.

Expensive process

The candidates also have not received mass help from the media, mainly television, and have been saddled with just restrictions to fight their own way. And on top of all this, most of the campaigners are not rich and depend on salaries and pensions. They discovered that there were no discounts to encourage them to beat the drum louder. Advertisements in newspapers, billboards on streets and on the radio were very expensive, especially in Dubai. Hence, we saw the streets of Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah adorned with pictures, flags and billboards of candidates, but there was nothing in Dubai because they could not afford the expense.

The next time round we need to encourage these people to engage more voters. We should have drawn up a plan to pave the path for them by taking certain measures. For example, government-owned television and radio should have opened their doors to them to be guests to present their manifestos and debate on issues related to the FNC. Newspapers could have given 50 per cent discount on advertisements.

Municipalities could have earmarked certain locations on crowded streets for candidates to stick their posters. But none of this happened. Everything was left to public relations companies to bargain and make money from these poor campaigners. I hope that the National Election Committee will learn from this and draw up a better plan to help candidates run successful campaigns by encouraging them, especially since donations for campaigns is not a part of the culture in the UAE.

In conclusion, I must salute all the candidates for their initiative, courage, enthusiasm and determination to be a part of this movement regardless of what they have promised or what their manifestos say and regardless of whether they win or not. I salute them because they have played a great part in encouraging people to vote, which is the main goal of a successful election.

By the end of the day next Saturday, we will know the winners. And that will indicate whether they won because they spent money and time on campaigning, put in personal efforts to reach out to people or they won not because of the modern methods of campaigning but by direct contacts with voters.

And the real winner, after all, if the turnout is big, will be the elections, which will indicate that people in the UAE are interested in going all the way to develop this experience with more participation in future. It will show how keen they are in this journey towards democracy. Let Saturday, September 24, come.