Fate of ruling Islamists at stake as Morocco votes in parliamentary poll

A woman casts her ballot on September 8, 2021 in Rabat as Moroccans vote in parliamentary and local elections. © Fadel Senna, AFP

Moroccans head to the ballot box on Wednesday for parliamentary and local elections that will decide the fate of Islamists who have governed the kingdom since the Arab Spring uprisings.

Doors opened at polling stations at 8:00 am (0700 GMT) and will close at 7:00 pm for the 18 million on the electoral roll, who will vote for 395 MPs and more than 31,000 local and regional officials.

King Mohammed VI will name a prime minister from the party that leads the parliamentary poll to govern for the next five years.

First elected in 2011, the moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) hopes to win a third term this year, having clung on to power at the head of coalitions for the whole intervening decade.

There are few clear battle lines over policy between the PJD and the opposition, and big decisions on matters like agriculture, energy and industry remain in the hands of King Mohammed VI.

Opinion polls are banned in Morocco near election time, but a survey in February by the Moroccan Institute for Policy Analysis showed around 64 percent of people planned to abstain.

Political science professor Ahmed Bouz told AFP that voters think “elected officials have little leeway to make decisions”.

People are still sceptical of whether elections make a difference to how the country is governed, even after a 2011 constitutional reform, he added.

Morocco adopted the new constitution after decades of skirmishes over the separation of powers and the king's role in the day-to-day running of the country.

Drawn up in reaction to the February 20th Movement, the local version of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings around the Middle East and North Africa, the document moved the country closer to a system of constitutional monarchy without giving up the king's central role.

King on top

Regardless of who holds elected office, major decisions come from the palace, including during the coronavirus crisis.

The extent of the crown's powers has led some local media to mock the PJD's attempts to take credit for the successes of their latest term.

Mohammed VI has already announced a plan for a "new model of development" with a "new generation of reforms and projects" in the coming years.

All parties are expected to sign up, regardless of who wins the election.

The plan's major aims include reducing the country's wealth gap and doubling per-capita economic output by 2035.

"The major directions are set and the elections only serve to produce the political elites capable of implementing them," political scientist Mohamed Chiker told AFP.

During the election campaign, most parties have ignored issues of individual liberties, in particular the call by some activists to decriminalise sex out of wedlock, a divisive subject in Morocco.

"It's disappointing but not surprising that politicians are ignoring our appeal," Sonia Terrab of the "Hors la loi" ("Outlaws") collective told AFP.

‘Suspicion’

For now, three major movements dominate the political scene: the PJD, the National Rally of Independents (RNI) and the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM).

The PJD swept to power in the wake of the February 20th Movement. But compared with demands back then for an end to "corruption and despotism", this year's two-week election campaign has been mostly stable, with no large gatherings due to the coronavirus.

In the final days, however, PJD and its close rival the RNI have exchanged heftier blows.

Former prime minister and PJD leader Abdelilah Benkirane attacked the RNI boss, billionaire businessman and Agriculture Minister Aziz Akhannouch, in a fiery Facebook video on Sunday.

"The head of government must be a political personality with integrity who is above suspicion," he said.

Akhannouch, who is said to be close to the royal palace, retorted in an interview on Monday that the attacks were "an admission of failure" by his opponents, vowing not to respond.

Following the last elections in 2016, the RNI leader secured critical ministerial jobs for his party, including the economy and finance and industry portfolios.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)


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