Moroccan elections challenged by voter mistrust


Moroccans head to the polls tomorrow for the first time since King Mohammed VI offered significant concessions towards democracy, with continued scepticism about the extent power has shifted to the people. Social activists have announced a boycott of the elections and turnout is expected to be low, with the Islamic PJD party tipped to emerge as the largest party.

With dictatorial leaders falling in nearby Libya, Egypt and Tunisia, Morocco’s elections are a testing ground both of the King’s reforming credentials and of the theory that Arab countries can achieve democracy without major change at the top.

In February, on the back of revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, tens of thousands of Moroccans took to the streets, calling for human rights and democracy in a country ruled by the Alaouite dynasty since independence in 1956. Yet, unlike in Tunisia or Egypt, the King remained popular with many of his subjects and was quick to offer reforms, including higher wages and an improved level of democracy, plans that were overwhelming approved in a new referendum in July.

The new constitution promises to give the pre-existing parliament more power, with the largest party automatically nominating the prime minister and the King losing control over many areas of policy. Senior opposition figures have dismissed the changes as window dressing and are boycotting the elections, with thousands taking to the streets this week to protest.

“All the parties that supported constitutional reform were not demanding [it] before the Arab spring. So the guys who are now asking people to go vote and participate in the elections, all of them were explaining to us for years before the Arab Spring that we don’t need to reform the constitution. And all the people who are demanding reform are still demanding it i.e. they are not happy with what happened in July,” said Aboubakr Jamai, an award-winning Moroccan journalist once given a three-month suspended sentence after reports in his magazine accused a Moroccan minister of corruption.

Sources close to the King are quick to point out that the new constitution restricts his power and could, over time, transform him into a constitutional monarch. Ed Gabriel, former American ambassador to Morocco, said: “I think that the whole reform initiative was started by the King of Morocco. There is a lot of excitement to move in the direction of reform, he must also empower civil society a lot more than before.”

“In reading this constitution it is not unlike the constitutional changes in Spain 20 to 30 years ago. In that case some of the power was held by the monarch, as it is today, specifically religious affairs.”

The February 20 movement, which led the protests against the regime earlier this year, is urging its supporters to reject the poll and it is expected that turnout could be lower than 50 per cent. “The government has to show the protesters they are for real. Many of them are holding back saying – ‘we don’t believe it, we don’t trust it.’ The proof is in the pudding,” Mr Gabriel added.

There are few reliable polls in Morocco but the Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) is tipped to form the biggest block in the parliament, with around 80-90 seats in the 395-member parliament. Under the new constitution they will automatically be able to choose the prime minister, but the decision could still be rejected by the King.

“The PJD needs over 190 seats for a majority but it won’t get that. [It] has serious difficulties in the rural areas and that is where the most seats are. To compensate for that they have to over-perform in urban areas,” said Anouar Boukhars, an expert on Moroccan politics.

The PJD, who take inspiration from the ruling AK Party in Turkey, will be forced to form a coalition with parties it disagrees with and in the event that it fails it will be forced to seek out a higher power – the King.

“The prime minister will be from the PJD but it will not change anything in the system, in the sense that the government will be a patchwork of parties who have nothing to do with each other,” said Hicham Almiraat, a Moroccan February 20th activist and blogger. “The King will play the role of arbiter of all this – so we are back to square one.”

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

JavaScript Developer (Angular, Web Forms, HTML5, Ext JS,CSS3)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: JavaScript Dev...


£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice