Morocco’s Islamists Are the Latest in Region to Feel Voters’ Ire
(Bloomberg) -- Morocco’s king is on the cusp of securing even greater power, as a parliamentary vote Wednesday could see a long-dominant Islamist party join its regional peers on the sidelines amid widespread discontent over a decade of post-Arab Spring malaise.
In campaigning, the Justice and Development Party, or PJD, was heavily criticized for failing to improve an economy which shrank 6% last year or tackle corruption, while King Mohammed VI received praise for his role in handling the pandemic and a plan to rebuild.
The febrile buildup suggests voters are in the mood to reward parties more aligned with the king’s vision. A parliamentary makeover that shunts aside the PJD could give a monarch with already extensive powers a compliant legislature to drive home his agenda.
That might strengthen his hand over domestic affairs as well as the on-again conflict over disputed Western Sahara, a row with OPEC neighbor Algeria, and attempts to secure funding from Persian Gulf allies.
The election must result in “credible institutions dedicated to serving the general interest and advocating national causes,” the king, 58, said last month. It’s a mantra that’s been used by other North African leaders in justifying moves to push Islamists from power.
Tunisia’s president made the same case when suspending parliament in July to widespread acclaim, marginalizing the moderate Islamist Ennahda party. Even more strident criticisms emerged in Egypt in driving the once-powerful Muslim Brotherhood underground years ago.
A new way of calculating seats for the 395-member lower house has added to the challenges facing the PJD, the largest party over the past decade. Local and regional elections are being held simultaneously but turnout was at 12% by midday in Morocco. That low figure was in line with regional trends as democracy has largely failed to deliver the gains promised by the 2011 uprisings.
Most Moroccans aren’t convinced “elections can change anything” and this is bound to boost the number of disillusioned voters, said Ricardo Fabiani, the International Crisis Group’s project director for North Africa. Early results are expected Thursday.
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Losing the plurality in the assembly may not mean the end of the PJD’s role in government, as authorities may include it in a future coalition, said Rachid Aourraz, analyst at the Rabat-based MIPA research center.
“Letting the PJD slip into the opposition, their historic comfort zone, may make them difficult to handle especially after they spent so much time exposed to a lot of government business,” he said.
Other issues have dented the PJD. It opposed eventually successful legislation to legalize cannabis production for medicinal and industrial use, a major victory for marginalized farmers in the world’s top exporter of the drug. And Morocco’s move last year to restore ties with Israel sharply divided opinion.
The king, meanwhile, has unveiled a 15-year development plan to help bridge economic inequality and boost job creation.
An effective Covid vaccination program and stronger economic policy have fueled the “perception that the monarchy is better at managing the country than elected officials,” said Intissar Fakir, director of the Washington-based Middle East Institute’s North Africa and Sahel program.
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