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Morocco Prepares for Landmark Parliamentary Elections Following Reforms and in the Wake of the "Arab Spring"


Moroccan King Muhammad VI has led the way to several democratic reforms.

Rabat, Morocco --- November 22, 2011 .... Morocco's November 25th, 2011 parliamentary elections constitute a historic turning point in the Kingdom's evolution into a Western-style constitutional monarchy, a move which will be of key significance in the development of the Mediterranean trading region, and because of the potential for energy transmission from Morocco and Africa to Europe - the integration of the Maghreb into the European Union (EU) economic pattern.

[As it did for the elections of 2007 and 2009, the International Strategic Studies Association (ISSA), the parent organization for GIS and the Defense & Foreign Affairs group, will lead a group of expert election monitors from all over the world for the November 25 elections. The goal is to study the elections in the context of the overall developments in Morocco and the entire region. Given the growing chaos and instability throughout the Marghreb and the Sahel, the democratization, modernization, and economic development of Morocco are all the more important and impressive.]

Morocco has been undergoing a process of democratization and governance modernization since the mid-1999 ascent to the throne of King Mohammed VI. The process has been culminating in the just-launched constitutional reforms which, in effect, put Morocco on an irreversible course to constitutional monarchy.

A new Constitution, enshrining this transformation, would be submitted to implementation by the Government and Parliament in the aftermath of the parliamentary elections of November 25, 2011.

Morocco is an hereditary constitutional monarchy, presently structured on the basis of the Constitution adopted in 1972. It is ruled by the immensely popular Alaouite Dynasty which had ruled Morocco for almost 400 years: since 1666. After the November 25 elections, Morocco would evolve further into a constitutional monarchy on the basis of the new Constitution which was ratified in a popular referendum on July 1, 2011.

The elections were advanced by about one year in order to expedite the adoption of the new Constitution and the profound reform process associated with it. (The last parliamentary elections were held on September 7, 2007, for a five-year parliament.)

Presently, the King serves as the head-of-state, with executive power exercised by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, which is appointed by, and responsible to, the King. The Crown, as in European and other constitutional monarchies (including Australia and Canada, for example), also has the power to dissolve the legislature and initiate revisions in the constitution.

The elections and the implementation of the Constitutional reforms at the national level will give significantly more powers to the political parties, Parliament and the Government. Significantly, the reforms abolish the King's nominated Prime Minister and power-ministers and replacing them with individuals selected by the winning party or coalition and confirmed by Parliament, thus reducing the King's hands-on involvement in governance. Moreover, the Constitution guarantees the full equality of women and the rights of minorities, criminalizes torture, and establishes the independence of the judiciary. The King would remain "the trustworthy guide and supreme arbiter". The new Constitution would "enshrine citizenship-based monarchy and the citizen king".

Presently, Morocco has a bicameral parliament. The Majlis al-Nuwab/Assemblée des Répresentants (Assembly of Representatives) has 325 members, elected for a five-year term in multi-seat constituencies. The Majlis al-Mustasharin (Assembly of Councilors) has 270 members, elected for a nine-year term, two-fifths elected by the people and three-fifths elected by elected local councils. After the November 25, 2011, elections, the Assembly of Representatives would have 395 seats, 70 more than in 2007. These seats were set by special legislation passed by the Moroccan Council of Ministers on September 9, 2011, in order to guarantee proper representation to younger generations and women. The 70 additional new seats would be reserved for women and younger deputies in order to ensure that Parliament is more modern and reflective of the true face of society despite hold onto power by veteran party leaders.

The electoral law improvements were subjected to a thorough audit by a delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) during a pre-electoral mission to Morocco on November 9-12, 2011. The recent improvement of the Moroccan electoral law "enables to organize free and fair elections", said the PACE delegation. The delegation "noted with satisfaction that the electoral law has been improved, enabling to hold free and fair elections, wishing that it would be applied in good faith by the major political actors". The PACE delegation stressed the importance of, and expectations from, the forthcoming parliamentary elections. "Transparent and neutral functioning of the electoral administration is a key element to ensure the democratic character of the whole electoral process and strengthen the confidence of politicians and citizens in the elections." On the basis of these legal improvements, Morocco was granted the "Partner for Democracy" status to the PACE. Moreover, the PACE delegation noted that national and international bodies were invited to independently observe the parliamentary elections, thus strengthening public control of the elections.

Hence, preliminary data attests to both the vibrant democracy and the challenges ahead. Some 30 parties are vying for seats in the new Parliament. The suffrage is universal for all over the age of 21. The key issue at hand is not the technical conduct of the elections. The Moroccan Government made every effort to ensure free and fair elections in both 2007 and 2009, and succeeded immensely in both cases, as international observers attested. There is no reason to expect a change in 2011. The main challenge is the possible impact of various outside interferences on the voting process and results. Outside efforts to affect the elections might be greater than before given the higher stakes for the political parties, and their regional empowerment and improved capabilities in the aftermath of the 2009 local elections.

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