Morocco has just been through the last phases of its local elections. Members of the Chamber of Counsellors were elected on June 12, 2009 by seven million voters, i.e. with 52.4 % of participation (less than the 54.6 % participation during the 2003 local elections but more than the 37 % abstention during the 2007 legislative elections). These counsellors later made various alliances between their respective parties to elect in turn the presidents of the Communal Council (mayors) of each city.

The reforms that were put in place for the occasion have indeed led to “technical” progress in the management of local communes, such as the voting of young people and women. However, they have not succeeded in consolidating the role of parties, limited by significant royal intervention in the organisation of the political scene.

"Moral" reforms

A financial fund for parties that was established for promoting female candidacies has been the greatest success of the new 2009 communal charter. The 12% minimum quota of female representation decreed was even exceeded and 3,406 women were elected (out of 20,458 candidates) against just 127 in 2003.

Civil society, namely through the "collective for the observation of elections", which includes 70 NGOs, was encouraged to ensure the transparency of elections. But even before the end of the elections, 1,767 complaints of fraud, purchase of votes, threats, or assault and battery had been registered.

Despite the reforms, Moroccans remain uninterested in the functioning of parties. For the majority of people, the development initiatives that concern them are the prerogative of the king alone, as those elected become somewhat 'absent' once the commune is won. Moroccans denounce a complicated electoral process that doesn’t guarantee that the party they voted for wins the commune due to post-electoral alliances among local counsellors.

The new indirect and proportional voting system that was chosen for these communes has contributed to the fragmentation of parties and reduced their impact on elections. Alliances are more the result of the balance of forces existing on the national political scene than a common interest in programmes at a local level.

Fragile parties

The great winner of the elections is the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) a centre-right party, with 21.7 % of votes. Launched five months before the elections with the king’s support, this party was established upon the initiative of former interior minister Fouad El Himma.

Even though it didn’t take part in the last legislative elections, the party was able to significantly support the parliamentary majority ever since its creation, thanks to 100 seats won by deputies of the five small parties that merged to form it plus other elected politicians that joined it. PAM therefore allowed the king to "rationalise" the political scene.

While presenting itself as a party wanting to “renew politics”, PAM weakened and removed the credibility of the Koutla’s right-left coalition, contributed to the disintegration of some smaller parties and offered itself as an alternative to the Justice and Development Party (PJD), an Islamic party. The question now is whether PAM – which owes its success more to the social networks of its candidates than to a real political added value – can have a loyal base and survive the elections.

Although the Istiqlal party ranked second in the elections with 19 % of the votes, it was rather marginalised in the alliances formed for the local elections. The USFP, which only obtained 11.6% of the vote, is going through a more serious crisis. By joining the Koutla, this party had bet on the "critical support to the king". But it was unable to impose its reform programme of the Constitution that would allow the prime minister a strengthened role in the face of decisions from the Makhzen, the governing elite. Moreover, the party was unable to contest Istiqlal’s anti-strike measures during certain social conflicts. Consequently, the USFP has witnessed the erosion of its social basis for several years now.

The PJD Islamists obtained 5.4% of votes this time round, a significant regression compared to the 13% they won in the 2003 local elections. But it is also explained by the fact that the "king’s Islamists" have normalised their presence in the political field for the last 10 years, focusing on the sound management of towns rather than on their Islamic branding. The PJD has also had to face the erosion of its union branch (UNTM), embezzlement of funds by its elected members and the resignation of various deputies and militants.