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Morocco Elections: Pragmatism, Moderation Will Continue

Rabat, Morocco --- November 28, 2011 ...The final results of Morocco's parliamentary elections were released on November 27. Together with assessments based on the parties' own political studies - these results constitute a sound base for analysis of what to expect next on the Moroccan political scene.

The two key factors in the results concern the relative powers of the leading parties.

With 107 seats (out of a total of 395) - the Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) has a clear plurality in the future parliament. Abdelillah Benkirane, the PJD's secretary-general, is thus the leading candidate for Morocco's next prime minister. However, the PJD has only 27% of the seats - or about half of what is necessary for a slim majority.

Although eighteen parties are represented in the next parliament - only four (beyond the PJD) have large enough a representation to make viable political standing. The venerable Independence Party won 60 seats (15%). The National Rally for Independents (which is a coalition of eight royalist parties) won 52 seats (13%), the Authenticity and Modernity Party won 47 seats (12%), and the Socialist Union of Popular Forces won 39 seats (10%). All other parties hover between single-digit figures and two or single MPs.

This means that the PJD will have to form a major coalition with more than two parties - an extremely complicated political challenge under the best of circumstances. The PJD is cognizant of this. "We are open to all political parties in order to form the government, to the exception of one party [meaning the Authenticity and Modernity Party]," Benkirane said shortly after the final results were announced. In order to ensure the kind of high-quality governance it had promised during the campaign - the PJD leaders would prefer to establish a relatively small cabinet. Toward this end, the PJD is willing to compromise deeply with key coalition allies. "It is not [even] necessary to allocate the majority of portfolios to the PJD," Benkirane said.

Ultimately, however, the anticipated establishment of a PJD-led coalition - particularly in the context of the evolving voters' base - means that pragmatism, moderation and continuity will continue to dominate Moroccan policies.

The main reason for the rise of the PJD in the last few years is that wider segments of society - that is, non-Islamists - shifted support because of a growing belief in the PJD's legal and social platform. These new supporters are convinced that the PJD is the most likely to deliver good governance and social justice, fight corruption, as well as put the country on the right path to economic betterment for the downtrodden. (This basic trend of voters' shift to Islamist parties for social reasons was also noted in other Arab countries such as Egypt, Tunisia and Jordan.)

However, many of these new supporters are largely secular and do not practice Islam to the degree favored by the PJD's original leaders. Moreover, such early PJD policies as banning alcohol are immensely unpopular with them. To sustain the support of, and empowerment by, these wider segments of the population the PJD will have to moderate and compromise - thus retaining Morocco's diverse and liberal life-style.

Similarly, all political parties and blocs in Morocco have by now comprehended and internalized that the public expect them to focus on domestic social and economic issues - particularly resolve such lingering problems as providing for good governance, betterment of living, viable employment prospects particularly for the youth, further improvement of education, and fighting corruption at the street-level.

The main differences between the leading parties and the PJD are on HOW to attain these goals. Hence, it should be possible for most main parties to attain a compromise on commonly accepted modalities for enacting the profound socio-economic reforms sought after by virtually the entire population. And such substantive agreement on mutually accepted compromises is the most important facet in reaching a viable coalition agreement.

Presently, the leading candidate for the PJD's primary strategic partner is the Koutla alliance. The Koutla is a loose alliance of the Independence Party (60 seats - 15%), the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (39 seats - 10%) and the Progress and Socialism Party (18 seats - 5%). The Koutla parties are focused on social issues and the establishment of a Westernized welfare state. As a unified body, the Koutla has impressive political presence - a total of 117 seats (30%) - that exceeds the PJD's.

Indeed, Benkirane stressed that the PJD has "an affinity" with the parties of the Koutla because they "showed a political maturity". He added that the Koutla alliance has already expressed willingness to take part in the upcoming coalition government. In order to ensure the widest possible coalition, Benkirane indicated the PJD was also open to include the Popular Movement (32 seats - 8%) in the coalition in addition to the Koutla. Such a coalition would master a respectable total of 256 seats (65%). This will be a narrow-issue government based on a mixture of Islamists and secular Socialists jointly focusing on implementing domestic socio-economic reforms and improvements.

Alas, the political reforms process of the last five years - that culminated in the ratification and adoption of the new Constitution - find the entire parliamentary-political establishment unprepared for some of the inevitable challenges. Hence, as the leaders of Morocco's main parties sit down to begin the inevitable coalition negotiations - there will be bumps merely because of inexperience that will, in turn, prolong and complicate the negotiations process. However, given the unity of the mind about the nation's most burning challenges and differences mainly on the modalities for their resolution - a viable coalition will ultimately emerge.

Thus, after some rancorous coalition negotiations and substantive meaningful compromises - Morocco will settle for stable coalition government focusing on providing good governance and resolving socio-economic challenges without rocking the country's unique and endearing social order characterized by diversity, pragmatism and moderation.

There should be no doubt that Morocco is on the threshold of profound socio-political and economic transformation. The public at large has great expectations from a PJD-led government and will give the forthcoming coalition government a grace period to prove itself. Delivering discernible success expeditiously - that is, within a realistic time-frame - will be the only yardstick by which the PJD-led government will be judged by the public and future voters.

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