Morocco votes af­ter five years un­der Is­lamists

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Morocco will elect a par­lia­ment on Fri­day for the first time since an Is­lamist-led govern­ment took of­fice fol­low­ing Arab Spring up­ris­ings that top­pled lead­ers across the re­gion.

The Is­lamist Jus­tice and Devel­op­ment Party (PJD) came to power in 2011 af­ter swelling protests prompted con­ces­sions from King Mo­hammed VI, the scion of a monar­chy that has ruled the North African coun­try for 350 years.

A new con­sti­tu­tion re­duced some, though not all, of the king’s near-ab­so­lute pow­ers as au­to­cratic regimes fell in Tu­nisia, Egypt and Libya. Prime Min­is­ter Ab­delilah Benki­rane’s PJD says a sec­ond term would al­low it to con­tinue its lim­ited eco­nomic and so­cial re­forms.

Head­ing a coali­tion that in­cludes com­mu­nists, lib­er­als and con­ser­va­tives, it re­tains con­sid­er­able sup­port among the ur­ban mid­dle classes that have largely aban­doned the left in favour of Is­lamist par­ties. But it has been weak­ened by ris­ing un­em­ploy­ment and what crit­ics say is a fail­ure to deal with cor­rup­tion. The party has faced a string of scan­dals within its ranks in­clud­ing a ma­jor drugs bust, a dodgy land­grab deal and the sus­pen­sion of two vice pres­i­dents found in a “sex­ual po­si­tion” on a beach.

It also faces a resur­gent lib­eral op­po­si­tion Au­then­tic­ity and Moder­nity Party (PAM), formed in 2008 by a close ad­viser to the king. The PAM has poured enor­mous re­sources into a cam­paign crit­i­cis­ing the govern­ment’s record as “cat­a­strophic” and pledg­ing to roll back the “Is­lami­sa­tion” of so­ci­ety.

It pitches it­self as the de­fender of women’s rights and lib­eral so­cial mores, and aims to bring more women into par­lia­ment, where they hold just 67 out of 395 seats.

‘Ex­clu­sive de­ci­sion maker’

The PJD ac­cuses its ri­val of be­ing the party of the palace, part of a shad­owy “par­al­lel state” con­trol­ling po­lit­i­cal life. If it holds on to power, the PJD will re­main an es­sen­tial part of Moroc­can pol­i­tics, “de­spite the feel­ings it rouses at the palace and among the glob­alised bour­geoisie,” said Pierre Ver­meren, a his­to­rian of the Maghreb re­gion.

A vic­to­ri­ous PJD would try to take the op­por­tu­nity to gain more space from the monar­chy for joint de­ci­sion-mak­ing, he said. But the de­ci­sive clout in Morocco re­mains in the hands of King Mo­hammed VI re­gard­less of who is in govern­ment.

“The king is de facto the ex­clu­sive de­ci­sion maker on a series of long-term and strate­gic mat­ters,” in­clud­ing for­eign pol­icy and big in­fra­struc­ture projects, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis from the Carnegie En­dow­ment for In­ter­na­tional Peace, a Wash­ing­ton-based think tank.

At the same time the monar­chy can present the suc­cess­ful in­clu­sion of an Is­lamist party “as a sign of the on­go­ing process of democrati­sa­tion fol­low­ing the adop­tion of the 2011 con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments,” it added.

Pre­vi­ously the monarch could choose his prime min­is­ter, but since the con­si­tu­tional changes he must ap­point some­one from the party that wins the most seats in par­lia­ment.

Re­turn of the Salafists

Fri­day’s poll also marks the re­turn of Salafists, fol­low­ers of an ul­tra-con­ser­va­tive brand of Sunni Is­lam, to the po­lit­i­cal arena. There are only a few dozen Salafists among the 7,000 can­di­dates in Fri­day’s poll, but their reemer­gence is a no­table shift in a coun­try where they were once pari­ahs.

They in­clude Ab­del­wa­hab Rafiki, also known as Abou Hafs, a for­mer preacher who was sen­tenced to 30 years in prison af­ter ji­hadist at­tacks in Casablanca in 2003 that left 45 peo­ple dead.

He was par­doned in 2012 and is run­ning for Is­tiqlal, a na­tion­al­ist party. Rafiki is not alone. The Casablanca bomb­ings prompted au­thor­i­ties to ar­rest some 8,000 peo­ple, many of them Salafists. But like him, many were par­doned fol­low­ing the tur­moil of 2011, and have since gained a foothold in Moroc­can pol­i­tics. —AFP

TIFLET, MOROCCO: Sup­port­ers of Morocco’s Demo­cratic In­de­pen­dence Party pass out cam­paign leaflets in the city of Tifelt, on the out­skirts of the cap­i­tal, Rabat yes­ter­day. —AFP

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