The UAE, so far untouched by the 'Arab spring' protests, plans a sharp increase in the number of voters in elections to a largely advisory council due in September, a senior official said on Wednesday.
The elections are part of a gradual increase in popular participation in UAE politics, though both voters and candidates will be handpicked by the seven emirates rulers, minister of state for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash said.
The number of Emiratis allowed to vote in the Sept 24. elections for the Federal National Council will jump to 80,000 from fewer than 7,000 in the 2006 election, the first one held in the UAE, Gargash said.
"The idea is not to have an experience for the elite ... We're aiming at creating something of a natural right [for all citizens], but we need to do it gradually," Gargash, who also heads the Gulf monarchy's election committee, said at a public event.
The UAE, a U.S. ally and leading oil producer, has so far been insulated from the mass pro-democracy protests that have swept the Arab world, thanks to rapid economic development that has a rising standard of living.
Half the members of the 40-seat council will be chosen by voters and half appointed by the rulers of the seven emirates.
The council has a largely advisory role, and some former members have called for it to have a larger say, complaining that their advice was not always heeded. It can only suggest changes to bills drafted by government ministries.
The federation of seven emirates has a population estimated at around 5 million, of which one fifth are Emirati nationals and the rest expatriates.
In the first elections, in 2006, 6,595 people, 1,162 of them women, voted for half the council's members. As will happen this year, the voters and candidates were handpicked by the seven rulers.
"The first elections, in our agenda, were the equivalent of the letter A in the alphabet," Gargash said.For all the latest business news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
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