Morocco election highlights political polarization, maintains constitutional smokescreen

Credit: Morocco World News

Credit: Morocco World News


Morocco‘s moderate Islamists have won parliamentary elections, beating a rival party critics say is too close to the royal palace in a tight race that will complicate negotiations to form a coalition government, Reuters reports:

The government has only limited powers, but Friday’s ballot for the House of Representatives was a test for the constitutional monarchy five years after Mohammed VI devolved some authority to ease protests for democratic change. After five years in government, the Justice and Development Party (PJD) won 125 seats while the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) party took 102, according to final results announced by the interior minister on Saturday.

Apart from the two main parties, Istiqlal, which historically fought for independence from France, came third with 45 seats. Nine other parties also won seats, including the National Gathering of Independents which took 37 and the Federation of the Democratic Left which clinched two, AFP adds.

“It’s clear now more than ever that it’s a clash between the cities, represented by the PJD, and the countryside, represented by the PAM,” said Riccardo Fabiani, North Africa analyst with Eurasia Group. “We’re facing a process of polarization of Moroccan politics, where two big parties are monopolizing,” he told Bloomberg.

morocco voteMorocco’s two major parties are building superficially conflicting narratives to de-emphasize their general consensus on most issues, Fabiani writes for Carnegie’s Sada bulletin.

Experts see the result as a generally positive sign for Morocco’s democracy and reform movement, which was unleashed in 2011, AP adds. The movement is pushing for less centralized control by the royal palace and more genuine political debate.

Analysts say that before 2011, elections would have been manipulated to ensure Islamists did not win, and it was unthinkable that they would be allowed to lead the government, however, moderate they were, The FT reports:

Moroccan democracy activists lament what they describe as a regression in the country’s commitment to freedoms and human rights since 2011 which have led to fears that there might be attempts falsify or interfere with the poll on the part of pro-palace parties and elites. The run-up to the poll has been marked by more tension than previous elections amid allegations from PJD leaders and supporters that their political opponents were seeking to unfairly influence the poll.

morocco parltThe monarchy’s constitutional reforms seemed to subject executive authority to the broad standards of human rights and, if not democracy, at least fairly balanced power sharing, analyst Ahmed Benchemsi wrote for The Journal of Democracy. But further inspection reveals that the monarchy succeeded in outfoxing its opponents by producing an elaborate constitutional smokescreen.

The run-up to Friday’s poll was marked by an increase in tensions as Islamists and their supporters suggest some in the establishment are working to undermine them. The polls came amid rising fears that the 2011 reforms may be rowed back, the FT’s Heba Saleh adds.

“I think the PJD has seen several things happen which worry them,” said Issandr El Amrani, head of the North Africa program at the International Crisis Group. “There has been a retrenchment and an authoritarian resurgence in the last two years. There is generally a sense among civil society and parties that things are going back.”

According to Duke University political scientist Abdeslam Maghraoui, Morocco’s monarchy is unlikely to view PJD leader Abdelilah Benkirane as a real partner, now that the threat of uprisings is over.

“The PJD basically helped the monarchy navigate the pressure of the youth uprisings in the region,” Maghraoui said, adding that the monarch has emerged more powerful in the wake of the Arab Spring.

As a new parliament will be seated and a new government will be formed in Morocco, many Moroccans living abroad are calling on the authorities to engage with the diaspora and translate Morocco’s constitutional commitments into laws and public policies that would guarantee the right for civic and political participation, writes Hanane Zelouani Idrissi, a program officer at the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance NGO. Morocco can no longer afford to miss on opportunities where its diaspora can play a stronger role in the political, economic, and social development in the country as well as its role in public diplomacy when it comes to Morocco’s interests at the international level, she contends.

The Civicus Civil Society Index Report for Morocco (2011) reveals low political participation among Moroccan citizens, which does not exceed 0.8% of the surveyed population, notes one observer.

Corruption, unemployment and low economic growth will doubtless continue to prompt pleas for change, argues Adria Lawrence, an associate professor of political science at Yale University.

“Hollow changes may not stave off this pressure indefinitely,” she writes for The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage. “The king may decide to offer a slow but sure transformation toward a more even balance of power, greater transparency and more democratic participation. Until then, another round of elections is unlikely to produce progress toward democracy.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email