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Sada - Analysis

Will Morocco’s Elections Subdue Popular Protests?


The legislative elections in Morocco will not alter the balance of power between the monarch and the parliament. But for the first time, the identity of the party which will emerge victorious from the elections has become of some interest to the public, as the outcome will affect the future of popular movements that are pushing for change outside the institutional context.  Morocco’s legislative elections on Friday will be met with an apathetic electorate—signaled by the reduced number of registered voters: despite population growth and a change in the voting age from 21 to 18, the number of registered voters has dropped by over two million to 13 million since 2003. The constitutional amendments announced in June do not alter the balance of power between parliament and the king, nor do they reform the electoral law that limits the ability of large national parties to win a majority of seats. For once, however, the identity of the party that will emerge victorious from the elections has become of interest to the public , as the outcome of the elections will influence the future of the popular movements pushing for change outside the institutional context. 
Morocco’s February 20 popular demonstrations created a new political reality by bringing together hundreds of thousands of citizens: for the first time since the ascension of Mohammed VI to the throne, the country situated itself with the two principals face to face with one another: the street and the palace. Organized by a Facebook-based network of Moroccan youth that formed after the fall of Ben Ali in Tunisia, this pro-democracy movement demanded an end to corruption and autocracy, the dissolution of the government’s “elected” institutions, fair elections unsupervised by the Interior Ministry, and the establishment of a parliamentary monarchy in which the king reigns, but does not rule. Demonstrators did not criticize the king himself except in isolated cases—a decision intended to guard against violent police reactions and keep from alienating supporters of a constitutional monarchy. Instead, the king’s closest counselors, like Fouad El Himma (his most influential advisor) and Mounir Majidi (who is called “the Rami Makhlouf” of Morocco) were the primary targets of the street’s anger.
In his first response to the protests on March 9, the king promised demonstrators far-reaching constitutional reform that gave executive powers to the prime minister, who would be officially given the title “the head of government”; judicial reform and greater public freedoms were also pledged. The February 20th Movement has since perceived these assurances as an attempt to stall for time, claiming they still fall short of the street’s demands. 
A PJD-led government would also have sway with the street, which could curb the popular momentum that the youth movement still enjoys. It is the only party which has stated that it will actually rule if it wins the voters’ trust, and that it will not simply follow the orders given by the king’s advisors or influential security officials.
The new constitution—which was carefully drafted at every stage by the king and his closest aides—is vaguer than the previous one, especially regarding the distribution of power between the king and the government. If interpreted in isolation, some articles give the impression that Morocco is on the verge of becoming a genuinely constitutional monarchy in which the executive branch rules and parliament legislates. This possible interpretation makes the November 25 elections politically significant: the constitution requires that the king choose a member of the winning party as “head of government”—consequently, who the victorious party will be is now of greater interest than in previous elections.  
With that, however, so as to ensure a preferable outcome the palace has pushed the loyalist “administrative parties” (those established or sponsored by the Interior Ministry—e.g., the Authenticity and Modernity party, known as PAM; the RNI, a liberal party; and the Popular Movement) to form an electoral alliance with smaller organizations: a confederation called “G-8,” after the global economic organization. Among other things, this royalist alliance aims to outmaneuver the Islamist Party of Justice and Development (PJD), as it rides the coattails of Ennahda’s victory in Tunisia. And although the PJD is more conservative than Ennahda (and thus, less likely to secure secularist votes), it aims to garner around 70 of parliament’s 395 seats—emerging from the elections as the majority party. 
But the regime has not shown any sign that the elections, which are framed by the new constitution, will truly be different from those prior. The outlined electoral system does not introduce any fundamental changes to the 2002 law and consequently still relies on districting that undermines national political parties in favor of local powerbrokers, who have no qualms about buying votes en masse. They also enjoy the protection of the state and palace because their demands are specifically local or sectoral, rather than political, in nature. Furthermore, the Interior Ministry is still in charge of organizing these elections, despite its atrocious track record of tampering with results. It was even allowed to set the conditions guiding electoral advertising in official media outlets—a task that should have been given to the High Authority for Audio-Visual Communication (HACA), which has the experience and resources to undertake this role and had been declared an “autonomous institution” under  the new constitution. Rather the Interior Ministry took the opportunity to ban any calls for boycott of the elections even though several political parties—such as the United Socialist party (PSU) and the Democratic Socialist Vanguard Party (PADS) as well as many supporters of the February 20th Movement—will boycott the election. 
Further, local observers have drawn attention to the fact that a number of candidates who the security agencies consider to be regime opponents have been banned from the race; Judge Jaafar Hassoun, former head of the Marrakesh administrative tribunal, is the most prominent example. Local authorities rejected Hassoun’s nomination on the PJD slate in his hometown on the basis that he had been fired from the judiciary less than a year earlier. However, in the summer 2010, Hassoun was also prevented from running in a judicial election on the grounds that he had been removed from his position. The justifications are, of course, contradictory, and the real reason behind the ban is that Hassoun has demonstrated a rare independent streak that has led the Ministry of Justice to swiftly remove him from his post on unsubstantiated corruption charges and without compensation. 
The constitution requires that the king choose a member of the winning party as “head of government”—consequently, who the victorious party will be is now of greater interest than in previous elections.  
Because of these limitations, the largest groups within the February 20th Movement announced they will boycott the elections. They organized nationwide demonstrations on Sunday and demanded an “end to corruption and autocracy,” reasserting that the official reforms announced do not in any way change the nature of the “absolute monarchy.” They emphasized that the proposals were intended to buy time and undermine the momentum of the pro-democracy youth movement, and there is already some discussion on how to prepare for a “million-man march” on the first anniversary of the protest: February 20, 2012.
As Sunday’s events demonstrate, street politics are likely to continue, and these groups are still able to organize protests in a number of different cities. But the outcome of the elections will affect the movement’s spread. The worst case scenario would be for the PJD to come out as victorious, with one of its leaders named head of the government, as such an outcome would restore credibility to the king’s reforms and the PJD would be unable to push for any core reforms once within the system. A PJD-led government would also have sway with the street, which could curb the popular momentum that the youth movement still enjoys. It is the only party which has stated that it will actually rule if it wins the voters’ trust, and that it will not simply follow the orders given by the king’s advisors or influential security officials. This relatively hard line on the monarchy’s control over decision-making is what pushed some secular activists and supporters of the February 20th Movement, such as the well-known businessman Karim Tazi, to announce they will vote for the PJD. 
In contrast, the triumph of the G-8 coalition and the appointment of one of its leaders as prime minister would be the best opportunity the regime could give to those demanding further reform: it would demonstrate more clearly the limits of the proposed constitution—and remobilize the Moroccan street. 
Maati Monjib is a political analyst and historian at University of Mohammed V-Rabat. He is the editor of Islamists versus Secularists in Morocco: Amsterdam, IKV, 2009.

This article was translated from Arabic.



Comments (5)

  • Ussef
    This article makes many accusations but doesn't back them with proof, and presents many dubious opinions as truths. An uninformed reader might well take all that at face value. That's a shame, because you have some valid points.
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  • K.Hopkins
    I totally agree with Ussef that the article advances some valid points but also a lot of false accusations about the palace implications.
    Short of democratic exercise experience, moroccans ( individuals and parties) have no idea of what they really want and how to achieve it. The parties' programs and campaign allocutions are so similar that nobody understands why should we have such a variety and number of them. Street politics leaders do join the parties in almost all revendications but do not want to join any of them.They would disagree with everybody just for the sake of disagreement.I think that the frustration of not being able to achieve their own revolution has outburst in the political chaos we are witnessing. democracy is a long process and change can be achieved but not necessarily through revolutions, fair and free elections or street politics but rather through political and spiritual collective maturity.
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  • van kaas
    The author of the article does not mention the purpose of the elections: the incorporation of the Western Sahara into the Moroccan political system. The Western Sahara is on the list of non self governing territories of the United Nations and according to the peace agreements a referendum on the status of the territory should be organized. Millions of dollars are spent to keep the UN peace mission MINURSO in the area. But Moroccans prefer not to mention or to think about the issue and pretend to have annexed the area. It is not. We will see elections for the Moroccan parliament being held in the occupied territory and we will know that election is a completely rotten affair.
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  • Farmer
    Its all about securing phosphate supplies for the West. Without you dear Western Sahara, farmers like me in the Western world cannot grow the food necessary to feed the world.
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  • Mohamed Elgjini
    This article deals with Morocco at large. Except Mr van kaas wants to remind us that Moroccan Sahara, is an occupied territory ha ha ha. And how about Sebta and Malilia, they are not occupied cities. My man pseudo-activism is a vertue no aday. To the farmer, do not forget that your behind is covered by tax payer money so that you could dump your product with a lower price in the African market,, and by so doing, you send the small African farmer to ruine.Ha I forget the ruke of the market does not appliy to your moral judgement.
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