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Morocco Elections: Future of the Democratic Process

morocco democratic electionsRabat, Morocco --- November 30, 2011 ... The main challenge facing the Moroccan political system was the prospect of voter apathy. In the 2009 local and regional elections, turnout was 37 percent. In urban slums and remote villages, economically poorer elements of society told pollsters that "they did not plan to cast their ballots because they had no faith that legislators would work to improve their lives".

Therefore, all political parties and the media in Morocco conducted a major awareness campaign in the final few days before the 2011 Parliamentary elections urging the populace to go out and vote. Famous artists, entertainers and other media personalities went public promising that they would "do all they can" to ensure higher turnout than in previous elections. As well, the entire country was covered with official banners urging the people to "do their national duty" and "participate in the change the country is undergoing". This clearly paid dividends, with the considerably higher voter turnout which was achieved for the November 25, 2011, Parliamentary polls.

Apprehension about a possible low turnout did exist, right up until polling began, but rumors of a boycott by the "February 20 Movement" and its purported message as the cause proved to be erroneous. The quintessence of the intifadas which had spread through parts of the Arab World — a process commonly referred to as "the Arab Spring" — has been grassroots rejection of their failed modern states and regimes in favor of restoring traditional Islamist-dominated alternate forms of governance.

In this context, Morocco is the exception which proves the rule.

Morocco has been ruled by the Alaouite Dynasty since the mid-17th Century. Being a direct descendant of both Prophet Muhammad and Imam Ali, the King of Morocco has unassailable legitimacy under the most traditionalist and Islamic terms. As is the case in all Western democracies, free and fair parliamentary and local and regional elections give the public venues to express their political opinions and to affect both national and local issues. As a result, the vast majority of Moroccans had no reason to take to the streets.

Moreover, members of the original organizing committee of the "February 20 Movement" withdrew their participation from the demonstrations against the Parliamentary elections once the extreme political character of some of the participating entities became clear. Simply put, Morocco has a combination of a traditionally-legitimate form of government with individual and political freedoms enabling all citizens to express their regional and localized traditions. Hence, there is no evidence of any meaningful grassroots interest in launching an intifada in Morocco. Indeed, the ongoing incitement of Al-Jazeera and other pan-Arab media served only to bring minuscule crowds to the streets.

The ratification of the New Constitution in the July 1, 2011, referendum by an overwhelming majority of 98.49 percent of the voters with a voters' turnout of 72.65 percent, clearly demonstrated the extent of genuine grassroots support for the Monarchy and the constitutional reforms process.

ISSA has for some years carefully studied the evolution of Moroccan political processes. For example, an International Strategic Studies Association (ISSA) report analyzed King Mohammed VI's speech of November 6, 2008, and highlighted his decision that Morocco unilaterally implement the "sophisticated process of regionalization" by introducing a new system of local governance.

In this speech, His Majesty announced the launch of a process of profound domestic reforms in Morocco, both structurally (redistricting) and governance-wise (regionalization).

It was with the June 12, 2009, local elections in Morocco, that the people were elected who would be implementing the King's vision of reform. This made the local elections of significance nationally, and were, then, equally important in positioning Morocco's viability strategically. This process was compounded and brought to a significant watershed with the November 25, 2011, Parliamentary elections.

As was the case with the elections of September 7, 2007 — which ISSA also analyzed in several reports — Moroccan elections constitute excellent and accurate reflection of the dynamics in Moroccan society because they are inherently free, fair, and transparent. However, this process was taken to new levels of accountability with the June 12, 2009, and November 25, 2011, elections, and this was reflected by the markedly higher voter turnout than the 2007 parliamentary elections, and this higher turnout reflected growing voter confidence.

Of particular importance was that the election process and voter turnout in the four provinces of the Moroccan Western Sahara (MWS) region of Morocco, given that this region — in which the United Nations has taken a particular interest — has been under international scrutiny, with a wide range of claims by external groups.

This was the case in the 2009 local elections, and appeared also to be the case with the November 25, 2011, Parliamentary elections. Without addressing that debate in this report, it was important to note that ISSA's careful monitoring of polling through urban and rural areas of Sahara showed, as with the 2009 polls:
A higher level of voter turnout than the national average; a high proportion of women voters; a complete absence of any presence by foreign-sponsored groups, or any indication of any influence over voters by foreign sponsored groups; the Algerian-supported and externally-based POLISARIO movement did not contest the elections, and, in discussions which ISSA had with voters at various polling stations, it was expressed that POLISARIO was, in fact, not seen as relevant or a consideration in the political process.

From the standpoint of ISSA's interest in the conduct of the election, the results in Morocco were strategically important for the transformative nature of what the elections themselves represented, rather than for who, or which parties, were elected. It was the election itself which showed the continued process of the devolution of power and responsibility from the leadership of a unitary state down to Parliamentary, regional and local levels.

ISSA noted in the 2011 elections, as with the 2009 polls, the complete absence of any security concerns in the urban and rural areas visited, and noted, in contrast, the high levels of infrastructural investment throughout the Saharan territory, and the rising productivity of local economic activities, from phosphate and high-value sands mining and exports, to fisheries output and export.

Part of ISSA's interest in closely watching the election process in Sahara was to be able — as it did in the 2009 election process — to verify or refute political claims made by external groups which had expressed an interest in the region. Quite significantly, the demonstrable integration of Sahara's population and structures with those of the rest of the Kingdom has also ensured a positive and growing increase in public safety and the rule of law, which has been measured by the reality that the proliferation of narco-trafficking and illegal migration on much Africa's West and Sahel coastline has been stemmed in the region of Moroccan Sahara.

The Moroccan elections of September 7, 2007, June 12, 2009, and the November 25, 2011, Parliamentary elections were, collectively, among the most free and fair elections globally in recent years.

They were also of strategic importance because they reflected a standard and a methodology which should serve as a model for elections elsewhere. Moreover, they were of strategic importance in that they represented a process by which a nation could re-invigorate its economic and social dynamic through the devolution of democratic processes to every level and geographic aspect of society.

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