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.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Lois Pryce... Life Without a Postcode. Lois lives on a boat with her husband.. Registering to vote in the election has prooved to be very difficult without a fixed residential post code. (David Sandison)
newsHow living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
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

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing