UAE Voters Cast Ballots in Limited Polls

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Voters chosen by the rulers of the United Arab Emirates began casting their ballots on Saturday in only the second-ever polls to elect half of the members of the powerless Federal National Council.

Men dressed in traditional Emirati white gowns and women wearing black abaya cloaks trickled into a large polling center at a conventions complex in Dubai.

They chose their preferred candidates using electronic terminals in semi-private booths, before depositing the printed out votes in transparent boxes.

Polling stations opened at 08:00 (0400 GMT) and will close at 7:00 pm.

Some 129,000 Emirati citizens are eligible to elect 20 representatives out of 450 candidates, including some 85 women, in 13 voting centers across the Gulf state whose leadership has promised gradual political participation.

The size of the electorate has been significantly boosted after it included only 6,600 voters in 2006 for the first-ever elections since the FNC's formation in 1972, a year after independence from Britain.

Candidates in the FNC polls must come from the lists of eligible voters named by the respective rulers of each of the seven emirates comprising the UAE federation.

The emirates' rulers appoint the remainder of FNC members.

The council has no legislative powers and acts merely as an advisory board to the Federal Supreme Council, the country's highest governing body, made up of the emirates' rulers.

The FNC cannot overturn or block laws or decrees issued and ratified by the Supreme Council.

Despite the wave of pro-democracy uprisings sweeping the Arab world as people demand a say in the running of their countries, the UAE appears not to be under any internal pressure to rush into speedy democratization.

The rich nation provides most of its native population of some 950,000 people -- a minority in its foreign-dominated total population -- with a comfortable lifestyle and cradle-to-grave care.

In addition to the capital Abu Dhabi and Dubai, the UAE comprises the emirates of Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Qaiwain.

Abu Dhabi and Dubai are assigned eight seats each in the FNC, compared with six each for Ras al-Khaimah and Sharjah, and four each for the smaller emirates of Ajman, Fujairah and Umm al-Qaiwain.

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