Under the UAE system of government, the President of the Federation is elected by a body known as the Supreme Council of Rulers. The Supreme Council is the top policy-making body in the UAE, and the President and Vice President are both elected from its membership for renewable five-year terms.
The Supreme Council has both legislative and executive powers. In addition to planning and ratifying federal laws, the Supreme Council approves the President’s nominated Prime Minister and is equipped to accept his resignation, if required.
The Prime Minister is appointed by the President. He or she then appoints a Council of Ministers, or Cabinet, to oversee the development and implementation of federal policy across all portfolios of government.
In addition to the Supreme Council and the Council of Ministers, a 40-member parliament known as the Federal National Council (FNC) also examines proposed new legislation and provides advice to the UAE Cabinet, as required. The FNC is empowered to call and question Ministers in regard to their own performance, providing an additional degree of accountability to the system. Ground breaking developments to open up decision-making were made in December 2006, with the first indirect election of FNC members. Previously, all FNC members were appointed by the Rulers of each Emirate.
The introduction of indirect elections represents the beginning of a process to modernize the UAE’s system of government. Under these reforms, individual Rulers select an electoral college whose members total 100 times the number of FNC members held by that Emirate. The members of each college then elect half of the FNC members, while the other half continue to be appointed by each Ruler.
The most recent elections occurred in 2015. The process resulted in an FNC in which nearly one-quarter of its members are women – including the body’s president, Dr. Amal Al Qubaisi. Women also serve in the federal cabinet and are being appointed to positions in the judiciary.
Future initiatives are expected to expand the size of the FNC and strengthen the interaction between it and the Council of Ministers, to further improve the efficiency, accountability and participatory nature of government in the UAE. In November 2008, the terms for FNC members were extended from two to four years, which is more consistent with other parliaments in the world. In addition, the government will report to the FNC about proposed international treaties and agreements, and those agreements will be discussed by the FNC before their ratification.
Historically, the political environment of the UAE has been characterized by great affection for the country’s leadership and institutions of government. This is largely in response to the rapid growth and development the UAE has experienced under their guidance in recent decades.