Legislative elections were held in Morocco on November 25. All 395 seats in the country’s lower house, the Assembly of Representatives, were up for reelection. 305 members were elected through closed-list PR in 92 multi-member electoral districts (with a 6% threshold) while 90 seats were elected on a national list where 60 spots were for women and 30 spots for candidates under 40.
Following constitutional reforms announced by King Mohammed VI in the wake of the February protests in the country, the Parliament will have increased law-making powers and the Prime Minister will now be chosen by the King within the ranks of the party holding the most seats in Parliament. Prior to these reforms, Morocco had been one of the most ‘democratic’ regimes in North Africa (and the Arab world), with a multi-party parliament (although one with limited powers) elected democratically and some kind of government. Democratization had begun between 1992 and 1996 under the reign of Hassan II and reached a climax in 1998 when Hassan II named one of his longtime opponents as Prime Minister.
Moroccan political parties, however, it must be said, are all pretty pro-regime. Since 1998, the government coalition has been formed primarily by the Koutla, an alliance of the old nationalist conservative Istiqlal Party (PI), the left-wing Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP) and the ex-communist Popular Socialist Party (PPS). Since 2007, the government has been formed by Abbas El Fassi of the PI, which won the most seats in the 2007 elections. Alongside the Koutla are three other important liberal-conservative parties, two of which participate in the El Fassi cabinet. They are the pro-government liberal National Rally of Independents (RNI), the liberal-conservative Popular Movement (MP) and the conservative opposition Constitutional Union (UC). The largest opposition party is the moderately Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD), founded in 1996 and led by Abdelillah Benkirane. Finally, the newcomer to the scene in 2008 was the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM), a conservative opposition founded by Fouad Ali El Himma, a former cabinet minister and close friend of the King. It won 21% in the 2009 local elections and is perceived to be an attempt by the King to create a strong party of close allies.
Prior to the election, the three liberal parties (RNI, MP, UC) in addition to the PAM and four other parties (2 left-wing, 1 green, 1 Islamist) founded an eight-party Alliance for Democracy aimed at rivaling the governing Koutla coalition and the PJD, which has been perceived as having gained the most from the February protests.
Turnout in the 2007 elections hit rock-bottom: only 37% of voters bothered to vote, which was the lowest turnout ever and a record low in the string of ever-decreasing turnouts started back in 1984 and unchecked since. Many voters – a majority of them in fact – are disillusioned with the parties and parliamentary politics, judging all politicians as venal crooks who only care about their votes every election year. Few voters seem to view parties as actual aggregator of political interests and coherent ideologies. Turnout in this summer’s constitutional referendum, ratified by 98% of voters, reached 75% which throws into doubt the legitimacy of the vote. The 20 February protest movement called on voters to abstain.
Turnout, however, increased, reaching 45%. I can’t help but think that the state might have toyed around a bit with the turnout numbers as anything at or below 37% would have been a crushing blow to the regime and would have played right into the hands of the 20-F protest movement.
PJD 107 seats (+61)
PI 60 seats (+8)
RNI 52 seats (+13)
PAM 47 seats (+48)
USFP 39 seats (+1)
MP 32 seats (-9)
UC 23 seats (-4)
PPS 18 seats (+1)
Labour 4 seats (-1)
Others 13 seats (-26)
As was widely expected, the PJD topped the poll with its best result and taking nearly 30% of the seats. It seems to have scored most of its gains on the back of smaller parties, who suffered the heaviest loses, while all the main parties besides the MP and UC gained seats as well. As a result of the election, the King named Abdelillah Benkirane as Prime Minister. It seems likely that the Benkirane coalition will be composed of the PJD and the old Koutla parties, with the RNI and PAM announcing they would not join the government. The MP and UC still seem to be debating the future of the eight-party coalition and perhaps their participation in cabinet.
A lot is made of the PJD’s victory, which, it is true, is pretty significant. It is the first time that an Islamist party wins legislative elections in Morocco and it is an historic success for the PJD itself. But the election and the results are nowhere near as significant as those in Tunisia or those of the ongoing elections in Egypt. For starters, these are not ‘regime-change’ elections: the King retains the real power, and his regime is not under any serious threat. Furthemore, the PJD is, unlike the Muslim Brotherhood, a moderated legal party which has accepted the regime in its current form.