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Political Systems in UAE and Australia

The 19th and the 20th centuries for UAE and Australia were marked with the strategic shifts in the political systems of both countries. After the loss of British dominance over Australia and United Arab Emirates, the countries have gradually come to realise the need for a better political system, based on citisenship, democracy, and the legislative power of the government. However, while the history of Australian political system stretches over more than two centuries, UAE has been able to cope with the majority of its political issues through less than fifty years.

Now, the political system of UAE can be successfully opposed to that in Australia as a brilliant and extremely well balanced combination of modern democracy and traditional Islamic politics, which predetermine the stability and peacefulness of political relationships between the emirates. Australia is an independent state (or rather, a commonwealth) comprising six states and a number of territorial units. It is a constitutional democracy, with the Queen as the head of the state, and the Governor-General as the Queen’s representative.

The two houses of the Parliament form the basis of the federal parliamentary system (Australian Government, 2008). The government is formed by the party, which has the largest number of representatives in the lower house of the Parliament; the Governor-General is appointed upon the Prime Minister’s recommendation, and the upper house of the Parliament (the Senate) comprises 12 representatives from each state, who are elected for 6 year terms (Australian Government, 2008).

In its turn, the political system of UAE can be briefly described as “a federal presidential elected monarchy, as the president is elected from among the absolute monarchs who rule each of the seven emirates” (Helen Zeigler, 2005). The President is the head of the State and represents the executive branch of the political system in UAE. The President is responsible for appointing the Council of Ministers and is accountable to the Federal National Council (the legislative organ comprising 40 emirates representatives, 20 of which are appointed by Ministers, with the rest elected for 2 year terms – Helen Zeigler, 2005).

At first glance, the two systems seem very similar, but an in-depth analysis of Australian and Arab history of politics reveals serious and at times incompatible discrepancies, which emphasise the dominant role of traditional (Sharia) politics in UAE against the minimal role of colonial tradition in the system of Australian political relationships. The only significant similarity that unites the political systems of Australia and UAE is that at a certain stage of their political development both states found themselves under the British rule.

For Australia, Britain has become the source of the major political ideas; in fact, the current system of Australian liberal democracy is a copy (with minor changes) of the Westminster political model borrowed from the British monarchy. “The establishment of the British Colony of New South Wales in 1788 occurred at a time of growing interest in liberalism and democracy in many parts of the Western world” (Kemp, 1998). In 1776, America won its independence from Britain; in 1789 the French revolution predetermined the direction of democratic development in France, and Australia could not remain beyond the emerging democratic trends.

In many aspects, the continuity and dominance of Westminster model in Australia resembles the process of political transformation from absolute to constitutional monarchy in Britain, further supplemented with the best traditions of Australian colonial and American self-governed federalism. The political system in Australia is the combination of the three crucial elements of the Westminster model: (1) bi-cameralism of the Parliament, with (2) at least one house being fully elected by citisens, and (3) the government’s accountability to the Parliament (Irving, 1998).

From the very beginning of its political development, Australia used these elements to develop and implement a “responsible government concept” as the center of its political system (Kemp, 1998). Unfortunately, in its pursuit for democracy and rationality, Australia has gradually lost the sense of its colonial political tradition, having combined the British parliamentary vision with the American vision of self-government. In this context, researchers assume that “Australia has been caught in some half-way house between competing views of constitutionalism” (Sharman, 1990).

In distinction from the long political history in Australia, the political evolution in United Arab Emirates dates back to 1971, when the state finally acquired independence from Britain; and what Australia was not able to perform through the course of the two centuries was successfully realised in UAE. United Arab Emirates was able to reasonably combine Islamic traditions with the best Western political experience. For many years, UAE was considered to lack sound political culture and strong political institutions.

In 1971, none of the Arab emirates has separate political bodies (Krishnamurthy, 2003). For many years, UAE lacked a well developed system of public elections and citisens could not exercise their right for political self-expression (Krishnamurthy, 2003). However, recent political initiatives suggest, that UAE remains unchangeably loyal to the idea of political reform with special emphasis on the Sharia traditions (UAE Interact, 2008).

The expanding public participation in the political life of UAE is the first but not the last step toward integrating the public political opinion with the administrative policies initiated at the federal level. The formal launching of a national government strategy implies that UAE leaders are no longer willing to isolate their people the political process. The year 2007 in UAE has set the beginning for the new era of public and political relationships in the federation. “A key focus of the new strategy is the maintaining of continuous cooperation between federal and local authorities” (UAE Interact, 2008).

Taking into account the predominant role of Islamic traditions in the political system of UAE, all these initiatives are likely to improve the quality and effectiveness of decision-making at all levels of its political structure. The establishment of new public bodies is the sign of the increasing political openness in UAE – the openness, which does not betray the eternal importance of Islamism in UAE politics. At the present stage of its development, the political system of UAE can be described as a coherent structure that comprises the best western political traditions and knowledge, and valuable Islamic experience.

While western political principles form the basis of the current political system in UAE, Islamic traditions provide for “unprecedented understanding of the priorities and plans of the government” (UAE Interact, 2008), and each component of the political system in UAE reflects the historical striving of the nation to preserve its unique political heritage. The current “election initiatives show that the UAE is beginning to evolve as a civil society where different constituencies negotiate with the government of power” (UAE Interact, 2008), but the nation remains traditionally loyal to its individual royal rulers.

Conclusion Political system cannot effectively perform, if it does not follow the set of cultural traditions and principles established and welcome by its citisens. Political tradition is something that Australia lacked from the very beginning of its political evolution, and something that was replaced by a hybrid combination of foreign ideas that have nevertheless promoted stability and peace in Australian political system. Simultaneously, UAE has timely realised the importance of royal traditions for the political stability in the federation.

In no way do royal and cultural traditions minimise the positive impact of western ideas on the quality of political performance in UAE. On the contrary, a well balanced combination of western and Islamic traditions forms a unique synergy of political ideas and approaches. That is why the political system in UAE can be successfully opposed to that in Australia due to the strong presence and dominance of the unique cultural heritage and unchangeable loyalty of the Arab leaders to Islamic culture.

References Australian Government. (2008). About Australia: System of government. Department of Foreign Affairs. Retrieved January 4, 2009 from http://www. dfat. gov. au/facts/sys_gov. pdf Helen Zeigler. (2005). Political system of the UAE. Retrieved January 4, 2009 from http://www. hziegler. com/locations/middle-east/united-arab-emirates/articles/political-system-of-the-uae. html Irving, H. (1998). To constitute a nation. Melbourne: Cambridge University Press.

Kemp, D. A. (1998). Foundations for Australian political analysis. Oxford University Press. Krishnamurthy, S. (2003). The global public relations handbook: theory, research, and practice. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Sharman, C. (1990). Australia as a compound republic. Politics, 25 (1): 1-5. UAE Interact. (2008). Government – political system. UAE Interact. Retrieved January 4, 2009 from http://www. uaeinteract. com/government/political_system. asp

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