Emiratis petition ruler for democratic elections

Wed Mar 9, 2011 10:04am GMT

By Erika Solomon

DUBAI (Reuters) - United Arab Emirates intellectuals petitioned their ruler on Wednesday for free and democratic elections, in a sign some Emiratis share growing Arab demands for a greater say in government.

But there was no indication of a move towards street protests in the seven-emirate federation, whose oil wealth and rapid development have boosted the standard of living and have buffered its government from widespread political dissent.

"The (petition) group calls for comprehensive reform of the Federal National Council (FNC), or parliament, including demands for free elections by all citizens in the method of universal suffrage," a statement from the petitioners said.

The 40-member FNC had its first election in 2006 when about 6,500 people, less than one percent of the 800,000 UAE citizens, elected half of its members. The rest were appointed.

Arab world protests have toppled leaders in Tunisia and Egypt and triggered revolt in Libya, and anti-government protests have now spread to several Gulf countries including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Saudi Arabia.

Some 160 people signed the petition, many of them academics and former members of the FNC, which acts as an advisory board to the government but lacks legislative or regulatory powers. Organisers are trying to gather more signatures online.

"The group demands reform of legislation governing the work of parliament to include legislative and monitoring authorities and calls for necessary constitutional amendments to ensure this," the petitioners said in the document, sent to President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan and his ruling council.


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