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Morocco Elections: Report by the International Strategic Studies Association

Rabat, Morocco --- November 28, 2011... The International Strategic Studies Association (ISSA)1deployed a team of experienced election monitors to key areas throughout the Kingdom of Morocco to monitor the conduct of the November 25, 2011, Parliamentary elections, which followed the guidelines laid down in the new Constitution of the Kingdom, approved overwhelmingly by the July 2011 Referendum.

ISSA has been conducting research on modern governance and regionalization in countries with diverse population, and, as a result, had also been able to comprehensively study and monitor the Moroccan local elections of June 12, 2009, and also had monitored and studied the September 2007 Parliamentary elections and the development of the 2011 Constitution in the Kingdom. 

The November 25, 2011, Parliamentary polls in Morocco were the 73rd elections conducted in the country since independence in 1956 (the 74th if the Constitutional Referendum of July 1, 2011, is taken into account). As a result, Morocco has had long experience in conducting elections, but has, particularly under the reign of King Mohammed VI, taken the improvement of election processes to be a vital component of national transformation. This was further deepened by the evolution and national acceptance of a new Constitution in 2011 which would — beginning with the process of the 2011 Parliamentary elections — lead Morocco to the status of a full, Parliamentary democracy in the form of a Constitutional Monarchy which would be fully comparable to the European constitutional monarchies which form the framework of modern, participatory governance.

Before discussing the results, it is important to note that all ISSA researchers and monitors, who had unfettered and comprehensive access to polling stations chosen at random throughout the country, found the elections to be among the best-organized and most transparent possible. The November 25, 2011, Parliamentary elections benefited from the experience of the 2009 local government elections, and, with the introduction of a secure new national identity card system, were able to be operated transparently and even more efficiently than the 2009 local elections. There was considerable evidence of an open and community-driven process in which the following highlights should be noted:

1.      Voter lists had been reviewed and scrutinized to ensure that all eligible voters were recognized and verified. This was exemplified, additionally, by the fact that ISSA researchers did not see a single challenge to the electoral lists based on exclusion; nor did we witness any instance of persons attempting to double-vote. This demonstrated a painstaking attention to ensuring that the underlying fairness of the election was beyond dispute.

2.     The organization of actual polling day activities was meticulous in detail, ensuring that polling facilities were readily accessible to voters. Security was consistent but light; there was no sense of a coercive official presence, but there was sufficient evidence to voters that polling stations would be secure. Within the polling areas, local volunteers ensured that there was a significant sense that this was a process governed at grass roots. Moreover, the fact that, without exception, these volunteer polling station officials followed exactly the same procedures for dealing with voters, highlighted the reality that training and documentation for election procedures would be consistent nationally. The Government and the Moroccan monitoring organization, the National Human Rights Council (Conseil national des droits de l’Homme), ensured that election information was available in Arabic, French, and Berber script, in accordance with the provisions of the new Constitution. 

3.     The arrangement of polling station procedures was undertaken to ensure maximum confidentiality and transparency of process. Voter identification was able to be undertaken with efficiency because of the fact that voters had national identification (ID) certificates — which verified that they were, indeed, bona fide citizens — as well as valid and current voter registration numbers. This combination of voter documents ensured that election officials could readily verify and check off voter participation. Significantly, all voters’ qualifications were checked by two separate officials working from identical local voter registration lists. The process was under the scrutiny of a panel of monitors from the political parties present in every polling room.

4.     Weather for election day was optimal for full voter participation; temperatures were mild. Voting stations opened at 8am (08:00 GMT) and closed at 7pm (19:00 GMT). Average age of the voter population is young: 57 percent of Morocco’s 13.6-million eligible voters are 35 or younger. Indicative of the importance of the elections to the Moroccan political establishment is that 5,873 candidates from 31 parties were seeking to fill the 395 seats of Parliament; 70 of them earmarked for young and woman candidates.

5. Initial results, as announced by Interior Minister Taieb Cherqaoui on the evening of November 25, 2011, indicated that voter turnout in the 2011 Parliamentary elections stood at around 45 percent nationwide. This turnout thus exceeded the 37 percent of the 2007 Parliamentary elections. Data collected and analyzed by the Moroccan Interior Ministry pointed to a building voters’ momentum toward the closing of the elections. Voting started slow. By noontime, voter turnout stood at 11.5 percent. However, by 3pm (15:00 GMT), voter turnout stood at 22.4 percent, and at 5pm (17:00 GMT), voter turnout reached 34 percent. By 7pm (19:00 GMT) when the polling stations closed down, the voters’ turnout stood at 45 percent. Voter turnout, while still below the 50 percent mark, pointed to a growing confidence in the role of Parliament and democracy in charting the nation’s course. 

6.      ISSA researchers were able, on a random basis, to monitor the counting of votes at a local level after polling stations closed. Again, under the monitoring of a range of officials from different parties and volunteer management, there was little or no opportunity for, and no evidence of, attempts to interfere with or distort the counting process.

7.     Logistical arrangements for the conduct of the elections by the Ministry of Interior reflected a painstaking demonstration of the Government’s clear desire to be seen to avoid interference with, or influence over, the processes. At the same time, however, the Ministry of Interior ensured that there was at no time any lack of appropriate numbers of ballot papers, ballot boxes, secure voting booths, and processing officials and voter lists. Within this framework, quite apart from the extensive preparations by a large number of public officials, the devotion to preparation and conduct of the polling day activities by volunteers was remarkable for the seriousness with which the process was addressed. 

8.     To reiterate, the attention to the preparation of new voter lists for this election, the broad delivery into the populace of secure national ID cards, and the delivery to voters of voter registration cards, coupled with the on-site polling station scrutiny and the physical marking of each voter’s hand with indelible dye after voting, ensured that voting fraud was difficult, if not, in practice, impossible. This reflected an improved level of preparation and security from even the impressively-organized parliamentary election in Morocco in September 2007 and local elections of July 2009. Moreover, the lack of any protests based on allegations of voter, or official, fraud post-election was indicative — as with the 2009 elections — of the transparency with which the process was viewed by citizens and political parties alike, confirming the legitimacy of the elections. The entire process reflected a new high-point for the conduct of elections worldwide, and should be seen as a template for other nations.

As a result of a review of the pre-election preparations and the conduct of the elections, ISSA considers the constitutional reform process in Morocco to be of strategic significance. 

Anecdotal Observations from ISSA Monitors:

A statement by the ISSA team of Dr Klara Knapp and Prof. Dr Klaus Lange, both ITS Germany,  visiting three different voting districts in Fez with 24 polling stations, included the following remarks, which typified the observations of all the ISSA teams throughout the country: “Neither outside the polling stations nor inside, could the team observe any attempt to influence or intimidate voters. Moreover voters declared that also in the run-up to the election there was no attempt to incorrectly influence voting behavior. 

The voting process was observed in all cases to have been conducted in an absolutely correct way. On this point there was also unanimous consent by the members of different parties observing the voting procedure inside the polling stations. The team concludes that there is no reason whatsoever to question the validity of the elections. No indication of inappropriate handling of the voting process could be detected.”

ISSA Monitor Kevin Harrigan, of the UK, noted — as did all members of the monitoring team — the absolute consistency of format, signage, and protocols at all the polling booths, and a high level of understanding of the process by polling station volunteers. It was also noted that the polling booth volunteers all showed a consistent neutrality toward voters, and provided a safe and secure atmosphere for voters. This was clearly as a result of clear operating instructions for all election teams, coupled with a strong sense of commitment to the democratic process being implemented.

The ISSA monitoring team in Layoune, in the Sahara, led by ISSA monitors Indranil Banerjie (India) and Yoichiro Kawai (Japan), also noted an absence of problems and issues at the polling stations they inspected, a fact which was significant given the international attention on Moroccan Western Sahara because of earlier irredentist claims. “The areas we visited were in the desert region of southern Morocco, which is considered [by some international commentators] as disputed territory, and has UN observers to ensure the ceasefire between government and rebel forces. The area is inhabited by nomads who tend goats and sheep and by small settled populations in a few urban centers,” their report noted. They continued: “We found a lot of young people at the polling booths and most expressed the idea that electing good, young candidates would help improve their lives particularly in the areas of employment, education and health.”

“Miraim, 29, a student pursuing a Masters programme in Arab Literature said she voted for a young candidate whom had promised to bring jobs to the young educated people of Layoune. She felt that young candidates would help ensure that the government allocates sufficient resources to create jobs and improve educational and health facilities. She also stated that it was the duty of young people to vote or else the space left would be occupied by destructive forces.”

“At the desert village of Foumeloued, 21-year-old Nabghouha, said she and her friends had voted for a young candidate in the hope that he would usher in changes for the better, particularly in the areas of education, work and social conditions. She denied that anybody had influenced her voting decision.

ISSA monitor Lee Mason (US) observed polling stations in Marrakesh with Ambassador James (Joe) Bissett (Canada). Their report noted: “The polling operations were well-organized, professional, and with a proper involvement of the public administration; the polling station teams knew what had to be done; everybody knew where to go and what to do. [Political] party observers were mostly young, and included many young women. Also on hand to scrutinize polling were representatives of women’s groups and allied groups, including those concerned with the participation of disabled persons. 

Systems in use in the polling were identical from station to station: a standard operating procedure was clearly in place. There was a sense of stability; the polling stations were tranquil, easy. Using schools was wise: parents vote where their children study. This was community activity in a secular sense. There appeared to be no constraints; both young and old women were arriving alone or in groups at the polls, in traditional dress or in modern Western attire.”

The remarks by these ISSA monitors reflected the anecdotal evidence of the entire team.

The report by the ISSA team covering two constituences in Casablanca noted the organizational structure in each polling area throughout the Kingdom. The report, by Dr Darko Trifunovic (Serbia) and Boyan Chukov (Bulgaria), noted: “Each voting unit comprises an elections commission which comprises a president of the commission, a vice-president, secretaries, and a senior member. The president ensures the efficient procession of the voting process and is in charge of the whole unit, together with the vice-president; secretaries are in charge of the voter list. The senior member keeps one of the [transparent] voting box keys while the president keeps the second one. It is also worth mentioning that all committee members are non-partisans.”

Challenges to the Development of the Moroccan Democratic Process:

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 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/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 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, then, 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:

(i)                A higher level of voter turnout than the national average;

(ii)              A high proportion of women voters;

(iii)            A complete absence of any presence by foreign-sponsored groups, or any indication of any influence over voters by foreign sponsored groups;

(iv)            The Algerian-supported and externally-based POLISARIO movement2 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 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. 

The International Strategic Studies Association (ISSA) is a worldwide, non-partisan organization for strategic policy officials. It has no political or ideological affiliations. It is based in Washington, DC, and has representatives around the world. See www.StrategicStudies.org.

 

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