Delivering on promises in Moroccan election

28 November 2011

The victorious Justice and Development Party has vowed to end corruption. Failing to do so may revive protests, but it could be hampered by the electoral constitution

The Justice and Development Party (PJD) has won Morocco’s elections, held on 25 November. For the first time, an Islamist party will be in power in Rabat and King Mohammed VI has now appointed Abdelilah Benkirane, the PJD’s secretary general, as prime minister in accordance with the new constitution.

The PJD secured 107 seats in the 395-strong parliament, making it the largest party, but without a majority it will have to form a coalition.

Morocco election results
Justice and Development Party107
Istiqlal Party60
National Gathering of Independents52
Modernity and Authenticity Party47
Socialist Union of Popular Forces39
Popular Movement32
Constitutional Union23
Socialism and Progress Party18
Source: Ministry of Interior of Morocco 

Turnout was recorded at 45 per cent, up from 37 per cent in the previous election in 2007, but it is still smaller than the 51.6 per cent turnout for the 2002 elections.

“The PJD has a quarter of the seats,” says Michael Willis, lecturer and King Mohammed VI Fellow in Moroccan and Mediterranean Studies at the University of Oxford in the UK. “It needs to find a few allies and may link up with the old opposition and leftist parties.”

Positive step forward for Morocco

The elections have been accepted as a positive step forward, but it remains to be seen whether the PJD will be able to deliver on its promises to end corruption and stimulate the economy.

“We do not expect a huge change in policy as the main policy decisions are made by the king and his advisors,” says Willis.

Like most of its neighbours, Morocco saw its share of protests in 2011. The initial reaction from the authorities was to respond with force, but the king also listened to the demands of the demonstrators and on 1 July, a referendum was held, outlining new laws to establish Rabat as a constitutional monarchy.

People voted for the party as they believed it would move things forward, but the room for manoeuvre is limited

Michael Willis, University of Oxford

The demonstrations were led by the February 20 Movement, a young, media-savvy group, frustrated with the corruption, lack of transparency and opportunities in Morocco. Unlike protesters in Egypt and Libya, they were not calling for the removal of the head of state.

“It was for an evolution, not a revolution,” says Hisham Almiraat, founder of the Global Voices and Talk Morocco blogs, which served as communications platforms for the February 20 Movement. 

Despite signs of progress, the movement is still dissatisfied with the changes and called for a boycott of the elections. They argue that the reforms have not gone far enough.

“If you look at the electoral system (proportional representation) in Morocco, it is carefully engineered not to allow any single party to have a majority. So, we always have a scattered political scene,” says Almiraat.

“People who are around the king are corrupt and have been retained. They are still able to influence the king’s decisions and have not faced judicial scrutiny, even though there have been corruption allegations against them.” 

While there is hope for PJD, it will be under a lot of pressure to deliver on its mandate. If it fails to do so, there will most likely be a revival of the February 20 Movement.

“The PJD did well because it was the only party offering change or reform. The people believed it would move things forward, but the room for manoeuvre is limited,” says Willis.

Over the past few years, the party has moved away from traditional Islamist concerns about the public role of Islam, attire and alcohol and has been focusing on social, economic and justice issues.

Almiraat, who did not vote for the same reasons as the February activists, says that his family mostly voted for the PJD. “We consider ourselves to be secularist, but my family voted for the PJD as it is a powerful political force and has a clean reputation. Most Moroccans are willing to give the new government and cabinet time to prove themselves,” he says.

Balancing game

However, the PJD has been criticised for jumping on the protest bandwagon as it began to make headway. To date, it has not condemned the authorities for their violent response to the demonstrations. Benkirane, the party’s leader, urged against the protests initially, most likely to please the palace, where the real power in Morocco lies.

As the new prime minister, he will have to play a delicate balancing game between the wishes of the coalition, the people and appeasing the palace.

The starting point is not as bleak as in Egypt. The Moroccan economy has been better managed than its North African neighbours over the past decade, although gross domestic growth (GDP) growth has been slow since it is a net commodity importer. GDP growth this year has been about 3-4 per cent.

“We are optimistic that there will be some pick-up in 2012, but it will be reliant partly on political development and mostly on the European economic situation,” says Simon Williams, chief economist at the UK’s HSBC Group. 

“A political process is emerging that can allow Morocco to change incrementally, rather than through revolution. The PJD will have to prove itself, whoever joins the coalition. Foreign and local investors will look at this closely, but generally, it is seen as a positive.”

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