Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Learning True Democracy

The government wants to give the youth a chance to understand this process and their fundamental duty towards their country
By Abdul Hamid Ahmad
I have not written an article for one year though there was and there still is water flowing under the bridge. Taking centre-stage is the Arab uprising where questions about freedom, democracy, human rights, state of law, governance and corruption were raised in the streets for the first time.
These historical events whetted my appetite to write, yet I did not feel like writing. But the announcement of the electoral college of the Federal National Council (FNC) [in United Arab Emirates] yesterday , pushed me to say something, especially after I quickly scanned through the names on the rolls in my emirate — Dubai. I have nothing to do with any other emirate as per the election law.
I felt that as a citizen, I have a social responsibility to be involved in the names on the list and say something personal about the matter. At first glance, I noticed that my name along with those of my friends, colleagues and relatives, were not on the list though we were on in five years ago when half of the FNC was elected for the first time. We had been replaced by our sons and daughters.
I saw that the names of my three young children — two sons and a daughter, were included in the list. I also noticed that the same applied to other families I know. The names of their children too were on the list.
I, therefore, infer the government wants to give the youth a chance to learn about democracy and social responsibility towards their country. I am happy to reach this conclusion. The list from Dubai shows that the majority of members are youngsters; and there is a good balance of women voters as well.
Now come the questions.
The first thing my son asked me when I told him that his name and those of his brother and sister were on the list was: "What is the FNC?" My daughter queried on what basis had she been chosen. I told them to learn about the UAE Constitution. The youngest child jumped in to say: "Where can I get a copy of the Constitution.?" One question was born after another.
Then came a comment from one of the children: "All I know is that these FNC people get good salaries and have diplomatic passports; and they keep the salaries all their lives. I wonder what have they done until now?"
A moment later he remarked: "If I become a member of the FNC, the first thing I will do is put an end to wasta (influence)." Another question followed: "Can I run for elections or am I limited to voting only?"
I felt that I needed to sit with my children and answer all their questions and help them to learn about the FNC, the election process, the candidates, the Constitution and political participation. A huge responsibility has been placed on my shoulder by the selection of my children who have no idea about the FNC, political participation and the election. In fact, by raising these questions and showing interest in the election process, my children have started their learning curve of democracy.
Taking my small family as an example, I guess the same applies to other youngsters chosen from Dubai (may be other emirates too), I feel this is a good move — they have been taken away from their games, computers, chatting, watching movies and huddling in shopping malls and thrown into the sea of democracy.
They will have to start learning. Now it is their responsibility as the government has given them attention and respect. They will have to learn and participate. But it is more our responsibility as parents to teach and guide them about the future. Besides, the local committees overseeing the elections must organise lectures and seminars before the polls to educate the youngsters on what is expected of them — what are their rights and duties.
I, however, did not feel any sorrow on not finding my name on the rolls because I understand democracy is for the future — for my children to participate in. And we as fathers, who have witnessed the rise of the nation over the past 40 years, must teach our children well. We must mentor and instil in them a sense of social responsibility. By saying this, I feel the Government of Dubai has done well by choosing the younger generation, who I hope will rise to the occasion and perform their duties.
 In fact, I felt free when I saw my name was not on the list. Free because I am free from any responsibility to vote and choose the right candidate. After all, elections are about picking the right candidate and not merely honouring someone. And, I feel free at last because I was planning to go on annual leave in the second half of September. But I was a bit hesitant to do so because the FNC elections are to be held on September 24 and I might be required to be in the country.
Now, I can finalise my holiday plans and go away. But I will have to teach my children first.
-This commentary was published in The GULF NEWS on 12/07/2011
-Abdul Hamid Ahmad is the Editor-in-Chief of the Gulf News

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