Local Elections and National Democracy Opportunities in Morocco

Amel Boubekeur

Morocco has just been through the last phases of its local elections. Members of the Chamber of Counselors were elected on June 12, 2009 by seven million voters, i.e. with 52.4 % of participation (less than the 54.6 % participation during the 2003 local elections but more than the 37 % abstention during the 2007 legislative elections). These counselors later made various alliances between their respective parties to elect in turn the presidents of the Communal Council (mayors) of each city.
The reforms that were put in place for the occasion have indeed led to “technical” progress in the management of local communes, such as the voting of young people and women. However, they have not succeeded in consolidating the role of parties, limited by significant royal intervention in the organization of the political scene.

"Moral" reforms

A financial fund for parties that was established for promoting female candidacies has been the greatest success of the new 2009 communal charter. The 12% minimum quota of female representation decreed was even exceeded and 3,406 women were elected (out of 20,458 candidates) against just 127 in 2003.

Civil society, namely through the "collective for the observation of elections", which includes 70 NGOs, was encouraged to ensure the transparency of elections. But even before the end of the elections, 1,767 complaints of fraud, purchase of votes, threats, or assault and battery had been registered.

Despite the reforms, Moroccans remain uninterested in the functioning of parties. For the majority of people, the development initiatives that concern them are the prerogative of the king alone, as those elected become somewhat 'absent' once the commune is won. Moroccans denounce a complicated electoral process that doesn’t guarantee that the party they voted for wins the commune due to post-electoral alliances among local counsellors.

The new indirect and proportional voting system that was chosen for these communes has contributed to the fragmentation of parties and reduced their impact on elections. Alliances are more the result of the balance of forces existing on the national political scene than a common interest in programmes at a local level.

Fragile parties

The great winner of the elections is the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) a centre-right party, with 21.7 % of votes. Launched five months before the elections with the king’s support, this party was established upon the initiative of former interior minister Fouad El Himma.

Even though it didn’t take part in the last legislative elections, the party was able to significantly support the parliamentary majority ever since its creation, thanks to 100 seats won by deputies of the five small parties that merged to form it plus other elected politicians that joined it. PAM therefore allowed the king to "rationalise" the political scene.

While presenting itself as a party wanting to “renew politics”, PAM weakened and removed the credibility of the Koutla’s right-left coalition, contributed to the disintegration of some smaller parties and offered itself as an alternative to the Justice and Development Party (PJD), an Islamic party. The question now is whether PAM – which owes its success more to the social networks of its candidates than to a real political added value – can have a loyal base and survive the elections.

Although the Istiqlal party ranked second in the elections with 19 % of the votes, it was rather marginalised in the alliances formed for the local elections. The USFP, which only obtained 11.6% of the vote, is going through a more serious crisis. By joining the Koutla, this party had bet on the "critical support to the king". But it was unable to impose its reform programme of the Constitution that would allow the prime minister a strengthened role in the face of decisions from the Makhzen, the governing elite. Moreover, the party was unable to contest Istiqlal’s anti-strike measures during certain social conflicts. Consequently, the USFP has witnessed the erosion of its social basis for several years now.

The PJD Islamists obtained 5.4% of votes this time round, a significant regression compared to the 13% they won in the 2003 local elections. But it is also explained by the fact that the "king’s Islamists" have normalised their presence in the political field for the last 10 years, focusing on the sound management of towns rather than on their Islamic branding. The PJD has also had to face the erosion of its union branch (UNTM), embezzlement of funds by its elected members and the resignation of various deputies and militants.


Article is written by Amel Boubekeur, Associate Scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Centre
Article was first published by France 24

Comments (1)  

0 #1 PAMHmimarmad 2009-07-09 07:29
Source: Economist

Royalist politics in Morocco

A new leader emerges, but how credible will he be?

A NEW political force is emerging in Moroccan politics. The Authenticity and Modernity Party, known by its French acronym, PAM, with a centrist non-ideological platform open to all comers, has been in existence for less than a year. Yet it already seems destined to win the general election in 2012. In its electoral debut in last month's municipal poll, PAM won the ballot with 22% of the vote. Yet for all its success, the ascent towards the prime ministership of its founder, Fouad Ali El Himma (pictured below), is the chronicle of a political elevation foretold.

In 2007 Mr El Himma resigned from his job as deputy interior minister and announced his intention to run as an independent in the parliamentary election that year. Where a few saw a fall from royal grace— he was known to be a close political adviser to King Muhammad VI—others sensed the beginning of a reconfiguration of monarchist parties.

Mr El Himma founded an anti-Islamist group, the Movement of All Democrats, which he then used as a springboard to create PAM. He recruited extensively from what is known as "administrative parties"—electo ral machines dating to the time of the monarch's late father, Hassan II, and composed mostly of provincial notables. He also wooed bright young leaders of civil society. PAM drew most of its MPs from rival parties, prompting these to complain that it was promoting "political transhumance". This is forbidden by the electoral code, which bans elected officials from changing affiliation while in office, but the law has thus far been enforced selectively.

In response, on May 29th, on the eve of the municipal elections, PAM withdrew support from the coalition led by the prime minister, Abbas El Fassi, leaving the government in a minority. King Muhammad reiterated his support for Mr El Fassi, and the government will not fall unless there is a vote of no-confidence. But the move is seen as heralding the formation of a new government led by PAM. The party's rise, wrapping old political networks in new reformist rhetoric, highlights the enduring strength of the makhzen, the informal political-secur ity-economic groupings that dominate Moroccan politics.

Mr El Himma has left the official leadership of PAM to Muhammad Sheikh Biadillah, a former health minister from the disputed Western Sahara province; he is more comfortable working in the background. The Moroccan press refers to Mr El Himma as "the king's friend". Like all the most important royal advisers, he is a former classmate of King Muhammad, and his success depends largely on having (or being perceived as having) the monarch's ear.

That is an uncertain advantage. One royal confidant says "the king likes Fouad, but does not want him to become another Driss Basri"—a reference to the late ex-minister of the interior who harshly repressed opponents of Hassan II. Tellingly, within three months of ascending the throne King Muhammad sent his father's right-hand man into exile. If Mr El Himma rises too high, he may yet find himself on the way out.

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