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UAE to hold first elections

United Arab Emirates (UAE) President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan announced on Thursday that the oil-rich Gulf state is to hold its first elections, in a move toward reforms.

”We have decided to boost the role of the consultative council by electing half of its members through councils in each emirate,” Sheikh Khalifa said in an address marking the national day of the seven-member federation.

Apart from the indirect elections, ”the remaining half of the council’s members will be nominated,” he added.

A council will be formed by the emirates to elect half of the 40 members of the national council, said Sheikh Khalifa on the 34th anniversary of his country’s independence.

A senior Emirati official told Agence France Presse no general election would be held.

Formed in 1972, the federal national council has 40 members who have previously been appointed by the rulers of the seven emirates.

It has the right to reject or suggest amendments to laws proposed by the council of ministers.

The emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai each have eight members, Sharjah and Ras al-Khaimah six, and and the smaller federation members Ajman, Fujairah and Umm al-Qaiwain four.

”Officials of each emirate will appoint representatives to the restricted council, which will have a total of some 2 000 members, mostly dignitaries, tribal chiefs or influential figures in society,” the senior official said.

”This entity will then elect from either within or outside its ranks half of the federal national council.”

Calls for the Gulf states to reform have multiplied since Washington launched a campaign to promote democracy in the Middle East in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks and after Saddam Hussein’s fall in Iraq.

The six Gulf states — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE — have enormous oil and gas reserves, and a relatively small combined population of 32-million, which includes large expatriate communities.

But their political systems, with the exception of Kuwait and Bahrain, have remained largely stagnant. Kuwait has the region’s oldest elected Parliament while Bahrain restored its long dissolved legislature in 2002.

Saudi Arabia held landmark municipal elections in February, but without the participation of women, while Oman holds elections to an advisory council. – Sapa-AFP

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