By Safa Othmani
By Safa Othmani
Tunis – October 7, 2016, is a very special day in Morocco, as over 15,000 will cast their votes for the party that best speaks up for their aspirations and needs.
With nearly 30 political parties running the 10th parliamentary elections race since 1965, 1,400 lists will compete to win seats in the 395-member Chamber of Representatives.
As soon as the electoral campaign kicked off on September 24, 2016, hundreds of thousands of Moroccans flocked to local election bureaus to register to vote.
North Africans, particularly, but not exclusively, Moroccans, have been keeping tabs on the electoral process with a mixture of anxiety and enthusiasm, wondering deep inside whether their nominee will be in the lead for the next parliamentary term.
Quoted by the Jadid Presse news site, Jameela, a native of Agadir city, in southern Morocco, said: “I’ve been keeping tabs on ongoing political developments with a deep anxiety.”
“It’s true that I sympathize with the Democratic Left, but I’ve heard that the Justice and Development Party is closer to people’s aspirations and concerns and, thus, enjoys a sweeping popularity,” added Jameela.
Since the last legislative elections in 2011, the Islamist Party of Justice and Development, known by its French acronym PJD, has dominated parliament seats and led a government alliance of several ideologies.
The PJD faces tough competition from the Party of Authenticity and Modernity (PAM), widely regarded as close to the palace.
Analysts believe the PJD could win a second term in the 2016 although austerity policies that the government embarked on to boost public finances have started to weigh on Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane’s popularity.
A poll published by Morocco World News in April and which was conducted by the Tariq Ibn Ziyad Initiative (TIZI) – “an independent, nonpartisan, and patriotic” organization – in partnership with the Morocco-based Averty institute found out that 44,9 percent of Moroccans, among a representative sample of 1,098, support Benkirane in continuing his five-year reign.
Political forecasters believe, Benkirane’s charismatic character will help his Justice and Development Party to gain an outright majority.
“Morocco’s Islamists have been standard-bearers for co-existence rather than rebellion,” Reuters wrote a few hours before the ballot lift-off.
However “defeats for Tunisia’s Islamist Ennahda party and the overthrow of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood may tempt Morocco royalists to push back against PJD where the palace once ceded to Islamists as an escape value for tensions in the past,” Reuters noted down.
In an Arabic article published by the al-Ain news site under the title “PJD and PAM Competing over Morocco’s Election Cake,” observers believe PJD’s popularity has seen a setback due to the pension law and rise in fuel prices.
In a paradoxical twist reflective of the impossibility to forecast Morocco’s ballot offspring in purely conclusive terms, the same news site wrote: “PDJ’s chances to win parliamentary elections are higher compared to other political parties thanks to its organizational and financial potentials nurtured by a large spectrum of businessmen and the conservative bourgeoisie.”
Morocco “is the region barometer”
“Morocco’s political scene and that of North African nations are expected to undergo a watershed should Benkirane’s PJD party win another term,” Tunisian Analyst M. Ezzedine told Morocco World News.
“Morocco is the region’s barometer since it is the only Arab country to hold multi-party elections on a sequential basis since its independence,” he noted
“A metamorphosis in Morocco’s political texture means a change in regional and also, perhaps, middle eastern politics,” he added.
Rabat-based political sociologist Mohammed Masbah, formerly a nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center went through a similar line as he voiced his expectations about Morocco’s upcoming ballot.
According to Masbah, the fact that Morocco is the only Arab country where Islamists have got consistently better results at the ballot box without stirring up domestic unrest and instability reflects Morocco’s ostensible commitment to political reforms, a tendency that ushers in a new era in the country’s journey towards democracy.
Reports have also emerged on the probable surge of a new tide of voters for radical left wing parties, with a group of Moroccan citizens identifying with alternatives to the main socialist party.
In Masbah’s view, the result of Friday’s election will determine the nature of the relationship between PJD party and Morocco’s far left. A new chapter of greater cooperation or conflict is awaiting Morocco around the corner.
Offering an-in-between standpoint, other analysts said they believe the Federation of the Democratic Left led by Nabila Mounib might win a considerable number of seats in the ballot box.
“This is a party that could offer Moroccans, and by the same token neighboring countries, a ‘third-way’ alternative,” said K. Nsir, a retired Tunisian University Teacher.
“We, North Africans, are fed up with extremism overwhelming us from all directions,” added K. Nsir. “Why don’t we just pick up the ball from the middle of the pitch so that every party can score a goal? We’re awaiting the results of Morocco’s voting on tenterhooks.”
Imad Agrili, 31, a painter from the rural town of Skoura, was voting for the first time and opted for the Federation of the Democratic Left. “They seem clean and transparent,” he said.
For affiliates of the banned Islamist Adl wal Ihsan (Justice and Charity) movement, the election in Morocco is just futile and unproductive due to what they dubbed as “the centralization of power and the decision-making by the monarchy.”
Political system makes hard for any party to win absolute majority
Morocco’s multi-party political scene, not so much dissimilar to America’s “salad bowl” allegory, makes it almost impossible for any party to enjoy a sweeping majority. The fact that the most popular party can hardly gain over 20% of the overall votes, makes the winner in an ongoing chase for coalition-building initiatives between various parties to form majority blocs in the Parliament.
Nonetheless, some now fear that the October 7 poll could give rise to a sort of distrust in the political process.
Independent observers writing for the Morocco World News, said despite some peccadillos in the electoral process, voting has been so far carried out close to international standards.
Bordered on the east by Algeria and on the south by Mauritania, Morocco has a population of 34 million, with Arabs constituting 70 percent and Berbers making up most of the rest.
The main official language is Arabic. Berber language, which is spoken widely in the north and the south has been granted the status of official language by the 2011 constitution.
The country’s new constitution, approved in a referendum in 2011, brought about a series of amendments that narrowed down the King’s political powers at the same time as they propped up the authority of the prime minister, endowing him/her with the privilege to assign government officials and dissolve parliament – powers previously endowed only to the king.
Even if opinions among experts in North African affairs have often diverged vis-à-vis such a political dispersion reflected on Morocco’s ballot day, Morocco, to its credit, is among the few Arab countries that has been holding parliamentary elections on a sequential basis since its independence in 1965.
Though far from being typical, elections in Morocco have saved the country from the serious landslides which rocked other neighboring countries like Libya and Egypt, where extremism has found a fertile ground to set up roots and flourish.
“We are just hoping for the best” after the harsh campaign, said Fatima Ibn Abou, among dozens voting at the Mouad Ibn Jabal middle school in Casablanca where the prime minister is casting his ballot.
Friday’s ballot will uncover the lineup of the upper chamber of parliament, comprised of 395 seats, 90 of which are reserved for women and youth. Definitive results are expected to come out Saturday.
As more voters are likely to head out to vote before sunset, North Africans remain on edge for the ballot’s final upshots.