Blatant rigging of votes in Moroccan poll: Street protests erupt at denial of victory to candidate who won 80 per cent of ballot

IT WAS a victory parade - or should have been. But the Moroccan authorities had exceeded even their accustomed disdain for the wishes of the people. So they robbed the man elected with more than 80 per cent of the votes of the parliamentary seat that was his due.

Such official thieving did not go down well in Bouznika, a dusty township between Rabat and Casablanca. The people came on to the streets when they saw Ahmed Zeidi's silver Mercedes. 'Zeidi] Zeidi]' they chanted and clapped. Boys made victory signs. Men waved. As Mr Zeidi neared his father's house, a crowd surged round in an emotional demonstration of affectionate respect. Hands reached through the windows to touch him. A woman fainted on the bonnet. Faces pressed up close, admiring of their candidate, yet upset, trying to comprehend that their man, a son of Bouznika, was, thanks to the most flagrant ballot-rigging, not going to represent them.

When the people of Bouznika heard that the expression of their popular will had been ignored, and the result falsified, they took to the streets. More than 600 women marched on the Royal Palace.

Young men smashed traffic lights and a phone kiosk. I watched as riot police fanned out in the fields behind the bidonvilles (shanties) to find demonstrators.

The evidence of the theft of votes was irrefutable. In election returns, signed by all the scrutineers and seen by the Independent, the 'victorious' candidate, Rerhraye Abdelkamel, garnered only 80 votes. Mr Zeidi, president of the journalists' association, who had served his people as head of one of the local councils in Bouznika, had almost a clean sweep. 'He won 16,752 votes. Rerhraye only got eighty. Eighty]' shouted one distraught man, shaking with rage.

The result was announced before the ballots had been counted. Mr Zeidi had been told not to bother to stand, since the former finance minister was going to win.

'Once people are disillusioned in this way, they lose any trust,' Mr Zeidi commented. He felt the fraud was so palpable, so absurd, that he had decided against a formal complaint. 'It might have been acceptable if the man declared winner had won the second number of votes. But he only had the sixth-most votes.'

His party, however - the Union of Socialist and People's Forces (USFP) - was considering taking the matter further. The USFP and the nationalist Istiqlal party, with which it formed an electoral pact, should have been happy with their results.

They won 99 seats out of 222, and thus formed the largest bloc, displacing the centre-right for the first time.

The USFP issued a statement condemning the elections. 'After more than 30 years of independence and five previous parliamentary elections, Moroccans are obliged to put up with the most awful forms of pressure and fraud by the authorities.' USFP officials lamented the continuing vote- buying. 'There was a failure of credibility by the authorities,' one said.

It was not meant to be like that. The Moroccans had invited more than 100 foreign journalists to witness the elections, the first for nine years. They repaid the hospitality in different ways. A Kuwaiti journalist, at a press conference with the Interior Minister, Driss Basri, who was in charge of ensuring the correct result, gave an encomium on the commitment to pluralism and freedom of King Hassan before asking his question. A French television journalist who questioned whether the elections were really free and fair was accused of racist attitudes by a Moroccan newspaper.

The shenanigans at Bouznika raise doubts about any of the figures produced by the authorities, including the 63 per cent turn-out. Two days after the poll the authorities could still not give full voting figures, only scores of the declared winner. By the standards of neighbouring countries, the poll may have been free and fair. After all, the elections were not overturned completely, as in Algeria.

Another one-third of the seats will be elected directly by local councils, trade unions and professional associations. The new parliament is expected to meet for the first time in mid-October. The new constitution stipulates that the government be accountable to parliament. No one knows what this means. But everyone knows that real power resides where it has always been, in the palace.

(Photograph omitted)