RABAT, June 30 (Reuters)
RABAT, June 30 (Reuters)
Morocco’s King Mohammed is widely expected to win Friday’s referendum on a revised constitution he has offered to placate “Arab Spring” street protests, but a low voter turnout could still spur demands for bolder changes.
Morocco’s so-called “February 20” street movement has seen nowhere near the mass support of those which toppled the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt. It is calling instead for his powers to be reduced to those wielded by the British or Spanish monarchs, rather than for him to step down altogether.
The new charter would still allow the king to name a prime minister — but this time only from the party that wins the most seats at parliamentary elections — and to vet appointments of other ministers and suggest the termination of their mandates.
It explicitly grants the government executive powers, but retains the king at the helm of the army, religious authorities and the judiciary and still allows him to dissolve parliament, though not unilaterally as is the case now.
The vote, which will be watched closely by other monarchs in the Gulf Arab region, is the first constitutional referendum under the 12-year rule of King Mohammed.
The 47-year-old ruler has had some success in repairing the bleak legacy of human right abuses, high illiteracy and poverty left to him after his father’s 38-year rule.
But while his personal popularity is seen swinging many voters in favour of the reforms, the margin of victory could be eroded by resentment at what is seen as a wide disparity between rich and poor, and sense of alienation from the political elite.
“The majority will approve the reform. What’s really at stake is voter turnout,” said Lahcen Daodi of the moderate Islamist Justice and Development opposition party (PJD), which backs the reform.
“The country has for a long time been run in a chaotic fashion and this has undermined confidence in elections,” Daodi told Reuters, adding that turnout below 70 percent could further embolden “February 20” critics.
Achieving that level of participation could be a tall order.
Turnout at the last parliamentary polls in 2007 stood at just 37 percent, the lowest recorded. Critics say that if the king’s reforms are perceived as an attempt by him and his courtiers to cling onto power, that could further undermine confidence among the broader populace.
Results of an online poll conducted by independent portal Lakome.com showed 46 percent of 34,200 participants saying they would boycott the referendum. Only 44 percent said they would vote in favour, but with only six percent saying they would vote ‘no’, that would be enough for a clear victory.
FOOD FOR “YES”
Tens of thousands have protested since the king unveiled the proposals earlier this month, saying they do not go far enough and that the referendum timing has not allowed Moroccans — almost half of whom are illiterate — the time to study them.
Despite shaky public finances, authorities granted wage hikes in May for public sector workers and the army and almost tripled food and energy subsidies to address social woes.
Authorities have ordered mosque preachers to speak in favour of the reform, while free food and drinks have ensured large crowds at rallies in favour of the package.
Television channels, all controlled by the state, have focused most coverage on supporters of proposals, with some airtime offered to political parties opposing the package.
The “February 20” movement has brought together Islamists bent on setting up an Islamic caliphate and secular left-wing activists focusing on what they see as rising levels of graft. They say they will continue their common fight for a system of parliamentary monarchy.
“We reject what has been offered because it still leaves a sole player (the king) in the field,” said Najib Chawki, one of the coordinators of a movement, which has no formal leadership.
“There are no guarantees the referendum will be conducted in a fair manner and we have seen how authorities mobilised mosque preachers and the machinery of state for a ‘yes’ vote.”
Ali Anozla, editor of independent news portal Lakome.com, said the referendum campaign had reduced the reform plan to an issue of supporting or opposing the king.
“It became an allegiance contest, even if the king does not need it since his legitimacy has never been questioned. This is dangerous for the future of democracy in Morocco,” he said.
“It raises questions about how authorities will deal with the activists of the February 20 Movement after the vote.”
Picture Credit: www.un.org/democracyfund/XNewsMorocco.htm