Moroc­cans vote amid wor­ries about jobs, Is­lamic ex­trem­ism

‘We are just hop­ing for the best’

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -


Mil­lions of Moroc­cans headed out to vote yes­ter­day, with wor­ries about job­less­ness and ex­trem­ism on their minds as they chose which party will lead their next govern­ment. Adul­tery scan­dals and thwarted elec­tion-day at­tacks marked the un­usu­ally ven­omous cam­paign in this North African na­tion, which is al­lied with the US and seen as a model of sta­bil­ity and rel­a­tive pros­per­ity in the re­gion.

Top contenders are a mod­er­ate Is­lamist party and an up-and-com­ing ri­val party seen as close to the royal palace. The palace pledged to loosen con­trol over Moroc­can pol­i­tics af­ter Arab Spring protests five years ago, but still re­tains con­trol over ma­jor pol­icy de­ci­sions. “It’s in God’s hands now,” Prime Min­is­ter Ab­delilah Benki­rane told The As­so­ci­ated Press af­ter cast­ing his bal­lot.

Voter Fa­tima Ibn Abou, vot­ing in the same polling sta­tion as the prime min­is­ter, at the Mouad Ibn Ja­bal mid­dle school in Ra­bat, said, “We are just hop­ing for the best” af­ter the harsh cam­paign. Since the last leg­isla­tive elec­tions in 2011, Benki­rane’s Is­lamist Party of Jus­tice and De­vel­op­ment (PJD) has dom­i­nated par­lia­ment and led a govern­ment coali­tion com­prised of sev­eral par­ties with dif­fer­ing ide­olo­gies.

The PJD faces tough com­pe­ti­tion from the Party of Au­then­tic­ity and Moder­nity (PAM), widely re­garded as close to the palace. It was founded in 2008 by Fouad Ali El Himma, child­hood friend of King Mo­hammed VI and a cur­rent royal ad­viser. To help il­lit­er­ate vot­ers, each party is rep­re­sented by a sym­bol on the bal­lot as well as its name - a lamp for the PJD, a trac­tor for the PAM, and other sym­bols for the other 26 par­ties. The elec­tion will de­ter­mine which party leads the govern­ment and the makeup of the Cham­ber of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, which has the fi­nal say in Moroc­can leg­is­la­tion. The cham­ber is com­prised of 395 seats, 90 of them re­served for women and youth. Nearly 7,000 can­di­dates are run­ning in 92 vot­ing dis­tricts. De­fin­i­tive re­sults are ex­pected to­day.

Pub­lic spats

Benki­rane has clashed in re­cent pub­lic spats with Ilyas El-Omari, head of the PAM. This week, Benki­rane slammed ElO­mari for com­ments he made to The As­so­ci­ated Press sug­gest­ing that state­funded as­so­ci­a­tions were among groups in­volved in rad­i­cal­iz­ing Moroc­can youth. With high un­em­ploy­ment and rel­a­tively low lit­er­acy, Morocco has been fer­tile re­cruit­ing ground for ex­trem­ists. As many as 1,000 Moroc­cans have joined the ranks of the Is­lamic State group in Iraq and Syria. On Mon­day, au­thor­i­ties dis­man­tled a 10mem­ber ter­ror cell com­prised en­tirely of women with al­leged ties to IS.

Ab­del­hak Khi­ame, head of Morocco’s Cen­tral Bu­reau of Ju­di­cial In­ves­ti­ga­tions, said the cell planned to carry out at­tacks on elec­tion day ac­cord­ing to Morocco’s state news agency MAP. Seven of the 10 mem­bers were un­der­age, he said. In ad­di­tion to se­cu­rity, Morocco’s eco­nomic ills are a top con­cern, in­clud­ing youth job­less­ness and record high for­eign debt. Many vot­ers are frus­trated with the sta­tus quo, es­pe­cially in ru­ral ar­eas.

Imad Agrili, 31, a painter from the ru­ral town of Sk­oura, was vot­ing for the first time and opted for the Fed­er­a­tion of the Demo­cratic Left. “They seem clean and trans­par­ent,” he said. For oth­ers, like the banned Is­lamist Adl wal Ih­san (Jus­tice and Charity) move­ment, the elec­tion in Morocco is fu­tile. The move­ment, which is boy­cotting the elec­tion, de­nounces the cen­tral­iza­tion of power and the de­ci­sion-mak­ing by the monar­chy. “The per­son who gov­erns is the king and his en­tourage and they have deeply rooted pow­ers,” saids Has­san Ben­na­jeh, spokesman for Adl wal Ih­san.

More than 15.7 mil­lion Moroc­cans have regis­tered to vote but last time voter turnout was only around 5 mil­lion, said Ab­dul-Wa­hab Kayyali, doc­toral can­di­date in po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity. “These elec­tions, specif­i­cally, mat­ter a lot ... and will show whether 2011 was just a blip on the radar screen” in gaug­ing Morocco’s path to­ward re­form, he said. The 2011 Arab Spring up­ris­ings have left a mixed legacy in North Africa - Tu­nisia built a frag­ile democ­racy, Egypt elected Is­lamists who were then ousted by the mil­i­tary and Libya has de­scended into deadly chaos. Some 4,000 Moroc­can and in­ter­na­tional ob­servers are mon­i­tor­ing the elec­tions. — AP

SALE: Sup­port­ers of the rul­ing Is­lamist Jus­tice and De­vel­op­ment Party (PJD) gather dur­ing a party meet­ing. — AFP

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