ABU DHABI The United Arab Emirates will hold the second election in its history in September to pick half the members of its advisory national assembly, the state news agency WAM said on Wednesday.
The move to set the election for September 24 comes as anti-government protests rock the Arab world, including the wealthy Gulf Arab region.
The world's No. 3 oil exporter last month tripled the number of voters handpicked by its rulers to take part in electing half of the 40-member Federal National Council (FNC), an advisory body with limited parliamentary powers, in a cautious step towards political reform in the Gulf state.
The announcement comes as Shi'ite protesters in nearby Bahrain demand a constitutional monarchy, with some hardliners calling for abolishing the monarchy to set up a republic.
Last week, a group of UAE intellectuals petitioned their rulers for free elections, in a sign some Emiratis share growing Arab demands for a greater say in government.
The first elections for the FNC were held in 2006 with 6,600 voters, including 1,160 women. The voters, who accounted for less than 1 percent of the population, were named by the rulers of the seven emirates that make up the UAE federation.
Unlike other Arab countries such as Egypt and Tunisia, where decades of poverty and political repression left their populations clamouring for political and economic reforms, the UAE's mix of wealth and established ruling families has cushioned the oil-exporter and trading hub against unrest.
There has been no sign of street protests in the UAE. Bahrain's Shi'ite majority has staged the Gulf's most sustained protests, while Oman and Saudi Arabia have also witnessed some demonstrations.
(Reporting by Mahmoud Habboush; editing by Mark John)