Moroccan elections bring victory for conservatives
By Mawassi Lahcen for Magharebia in Casablanca – 10/09/2007
The September 7th legislative elections in Morocco appear to have driven away left-wing parties and given an edge to the right and conservative parties that may enable them to form the next government within an alliance of 4 or 5 parties.
Seven major parties claimed 80% of the 325 seats in the Moroccan House of Representatives. They took place through a list system of voting which has the potential to create disparate results. Seventeen small parties claimed 20% of the seats, while nine of the 33 parties participating in the elections won no seats at all. Despite higher preliminary estimates, overall voter turnout in the elections totalled approximately 37%.
In spite of the larger number of participating parties – 33, as compared to 26 parties in 2002 -- only several of the seven major parties were able to bolster their position, and their share increased from 72% in 2002 to 80% of the next House.
The group of seven winners includes five right parties claiming 63% of the seats, and two left parties with 17% of the seats.
The Istiqlal (Independence) party received more votes than the others, with 16% of the seats. In second place was the Justice and Development Party (PJD), which won 14% of the seats, followed by the Popular Movement Party with 13%, the National Rally of Independents, also with 12%, the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP) with 12% and the Constitutional Union Party with 8% of the seats.
The results constitute a significant defeat for the USFP, which slipped from first place in 2002 with 15% of the seats to fifth place with 12%.
Observers expect the results will lead to a re-arrangement of the coalition of parties constituting the ruling majority, which currently includes the USFP, Istiqlal, the National Rally of Independents, the Popular Movement Party and the Party of Progress and Socialism. Although the alliance's share of seats has slightly increased, from 54% in 2002 to 57% in 2007, observers have predicted the USFP will withdraw from the alliance following its poor election results and will not participate in the coming government.
Mohamed Tozi, head of the Moroccan Centre for Sociological Studies in Casablanca told Magharebia he ruled out the possibility that the USFP will take part in the next administration. "I think that the USFP will experience strong internal pressures because of the results it has achieved," said Tozi. "It will find great difficulty convincing its activists of the feasibility of participation after the big loss it has suffered."
Many of the USFP's current leaders were unable to win re-election on September 7th. They include Mohamed Al-Ashaari, currently serving as Minister of Culture; Nouzha Chekrouni, Minister Delegate in charge of the Moroccan community abroad; and Driss Lachgar, head of the party's parliamentary bloc; as well as Omar El-Yazghi, son of the party's current Secretary-General.
After 40 years in the opposition, the USFP first took part in the government in 1997, when late King Hassan II asked then-Secretary-General Abderrahman al-Youssoufi to form a government of compromise. The party has remained in power under each subsequent government. The shift from opposition to ruling party has taxed the cohesion of the party, leading to numerous internal crises and weakening the group. Many expect the USFP will return to the opposition in order to re-align its ranks and lick its wounds.
Three parties participating in the current government -- Istiqlal, the Popular Movement Party and the National Rally of Independents – won 41% of the total seats and are likely to form the nucleus of the new government, guaranteeing a degree of continuity with the previous government's direction.
Moroccan researcher and political analyst Miloud Belkadi believes the PJD is likely to participate in this alliance. "There are common factors between these three parties and the PJD," he told Magharebia. Primarily "there is the fact they are all conservative parties that embrace liberalism and market economics. Therefore, I think that their alliance will be a natural and coherent one."
Belkadi said a government led by Istiqlal and which includes the PJD, the National Rally of Independents and the Popular Movement Party will be superior to the current government, led by an independent -- Driss Jettou -- and which includes a dysfunctional blend of socialist parties, liberal parties and conservative parties.
Belkadi believes that the liberal Constitutional Union Party, which came sixth in the elections with 8% of the seats, could also join the ruling coalition, guaranteeing a comfortable majority in the parliament for the forthcoming government.
However, Belkadi expressed some reservations on the issue of forming the forthcoming government. "From a political perspective, the Istiqlal party leads the rankings. It is followed by other parties that are close to it on major issues," he said. "Thus, it would be logical that the government be formed by the parties led by Istiqlal. Yet, under the constitution the King is the one who appoints the Prime Minister – as per article 24. This article doesn't specify whether the Prime Minister should be from the parliamentary majority or not. Therefore, I can't rule out the possibility the King will appoint Driss Jettou again, or even former Minister Delegate to the Interior Ministry Fouad Ali El Himma, who won in the district of R'hamna. In addition, the formation of the forthcoming government depends on the results of negotiations between the parties, and their ability to reach an agreement."
Overall, four of 12 serving Ministers failed to win re-election on September 7th. Seven party Secretaries-General also lost out in the elections. Former Minister Delegate to the Interior Ministry Fouad Ali El Himma proved to be a strong contender, however, with his independent list winning every seat in the R'hamna district, despite competition from 15 party-backed competitors.
Contrary to the predictions of many, the elections did not bring about a "crushing victory" for the Islamists. On the contrary, their performance was generally below expectations. The PJD, despite a second-place win, could not rival its own performance in 2002. In the previous elections, the PJD ran in 51 constituencies and won 42 seats, where in 2007 it fielded candidates in 94 constituencies but managed to take just 46 seats.
Two new Islamist parties – the Renaissance and Virtue Party and Albadil Alhadari (Civilised Alternative) Party, failed to win any seats in their first attempts, save for the seat won by Sheikh Abdelbarii Zemzami in Casablanca. Zemzami benefitted greatly from his spiritual influence in the old districts of Casablanca, in addition to his affiliation with the Renaissance and Virtue Party, recently formed out of the PJD.
International elections observers announced at a press conference in Rabat that, despite reports of minor violations, the voting ran smoothly and was characterised by transparency and professionalism.
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