By Saoussane Rifai,
By Saoussane Rifai,
Rabat – After a long reflection following a few years of ‘political abstinence’, I headed today to the poll to vote for the Election of the Moroccan Legislative Assembly, or what is commonly known as the House of Representatives or the First House of Parliament. This will be my first vote in several years. The reasons of my abstinence from voting was partly due to the fact that I lived abroad during the crucial constitutional election of 2011 that brought Islamists for the first time at the helm of Morocco’s Executive Branch.
In 2015, I did not vote due to my lack of time, but also because I had several unanswered questions about the new mode of voting that I was not used to – voting for an electoral list and giving my voice to a party as opposed to a specific candidate. This new mode of voting has certainly several advantages, including the creation of a healthy competition between parties to come up with programs that respond to citizens’ needs, therefore putting more scrutiny on them and leading them to improve their long term political performance.
The success of this method of voting is however based on the existence of strong political parties who are capable to engage citizens and to transform ideas into practical programs that further encourage citizens’ effective participation in politics. As this year’s elections did not witness any differences as far as the vague political programs of the various contesting parties are concerned, I still found it difficult to make a decision on who I should be voting for, particularly in light of a parliamentary performance that has not been qualified as stellar by the media or by the large number of citizens expressing themselves on social media and news blogs.
While choosing a party to vote for in Morocco is a critical dilemma that Moroccan citizens have to face every couple of years, the decision is rendered at times obsolete and is often self-depreciated if not demeaned (and rightly so) by some of those who chose not to vote. The reason being the diluting of the political scene largely due to political practices of several Moroccan parties that have failed to a large extent to reform from within (except for a very few), and have let the precious 2011 constitutional reforms, and post-Arab spring context pass by without renewing their political elites.
While renewing political figures ensures a continuity of parties’ ideologies, and brings fresh thinking and newer blood to energize the internal structures of political parties, it is also the major guarantee for trust building and credibility of political parties as representatives of citizens and as bearers of a social project that meets Moroccan people’s inspirations for an egalitarian and modern society under the premise of the 2011 constitution, and where access to services and rights is granted to every citizen regardless of their affiliation. This is also the most important mechanism to ensure effective transmission of citizens’ concerns to the political parties that are supposed to defend these citizens’ interests and to transform these into practical and feasible social programs, and policy.
This moral mandate of political parties and their ‘raison-d’être’ had been unfortunately clouded and minimized if not largely ignored amid the politicking and controversies and fights between members of political parties (whether in the parliament or outside) that marked the last five years, leading to a sub-par political performance whose ramifications can be sensed not only in the level of debated ideas, but also in the quality and content of political parties contribution in the legislative process during the last parliament’s mandate!
Today, I believe that political parties are not effectively playing this important social role. And this indeed endangers Morocco’s past progresses and challenges its current democratic reforms, further decreasing Moroccan voters’ interest in the political process all together. While the existing literature does not reveal updated numbers on Moroccan citizens’ participation in the political process after the 2011 election, the Civicus Civil Society Index Report for Morocco (2011) reveals a low political participation among Moroccan citizens, which does not exceed 0.8% of the surveyed population. The definition of political participation above is referred to as the volunteering with a political party.
The causes of low participation by Moroccan citizens in the political process are diverse, and have been influenced by the socio-political dynamics that characterized Morocco after its independence. Taking into account the historical and political context that framed Moroccan political parties intervention in the public domain, both before and after the ‘Alternance’ Democratic Process that paved the way towards more inclusive political participation of movements that have historically fought against constitutional monarchy, most of the existing political parties do not appear to have sufficiently created the necessary culture of trust and credibility needed to attract and engage a large number of citizens.
Criticism of these parties governmental performance has certainly not helped to mend the existing doubts about current parties’ ability to translate citizens’ concerns into concrete social programs or legislations. As a Moroccan citizen, I believe that a strong and effective parliamentary performance is contingent upon the following reforms within the political parties, if they truly want to fulfill their political and moral mandates:
-Political parties will be capable of earning the trust of citizens if they are inclusive enough! This means allowing new and fresh members to join the ranks of the parties and to contribute equally as the parties’ veterans in the parties inner workings. New members, women, young adults, and people with special needs, should be encouraged to receive parties’ nomination in a fair and transparent process that both the party and the public are informed timely about.
– Indeed, Political parties should really believe in women and youth’s active participation in politics, and not treat them as a décor in a quantitative affirmative action show where the vote of these new comers is treated as a de-facto agreement on political parties’ agenda without allowing these the chance to shake conventional ideas or to bring new perspectives.
– Political parties’ values and ideologies should be explained and communicated frequently to the public in an honest and open fashion to allow citizens a room for choosing parties that are best aligned with their values.
– We need Political parties that talk to the citizens all year long, and whose programs are transparent and doable, whose members are reachable, and whose engagement is honest and palpable through their representative’s practice of local governance or legislative performance!
– Again in the aspect of communication, Political parties in Morocco should improve their communication strategy and inform the public about their performance and the results of their discussions on extremely important policies that have the risk of negatively impacting citizen’s short term or long term financial prospects. We need political parties that provide us citizens with expert opinion on why they had voted in favor of law or against it. Political parties’ current programs are vague; their implementation timeline and process is equally unclear! Political parties should be able to bring together experts, representatives of civil society, and engaged citizens as well as other stakeholders to discuss the rationale of the proposed parties’ programs, and how they intend to implement them if they get into the government! If they are already doing so, this means they should communicate more about it!
– Political parties should increase their effort to collect feedback from citizens and to engage in an ongoing policy analysis and formulation process whereby citizens’ concerns are heard and incorporated from the design of the policy to its final implementation. Political parties need to share their record publicly with us citizens through the parliament website, on social media or via other mass media, if not during regular meetings with constituents; we also need political parties to show us that they have done enough policy analysis and that they had looked into legislations and policies and programs from several angles
– Political parties should show the public that they are putting Morocco’s national interests above and beyond any temporary politicking! To encourage a culture of effective no-partisanship regarding critical national issues, political parties need to commit to an inter-party dialogue where they put aside their divergences, and work together with all society’s stakeholders to propose consensual solutions that meet those requirements! Political parties should be capable of debating the major developments, and be involved truly in defending Morocco’s national interests (whether through legislation or diplomacy);
– In line with their constitutional role, political parties should continue to perform checks and balances with the executive branch of the government, but be capable of explaining objectively to citizens the challenges and issues at stake;
– Political parties should be careful about the messages they are transmitting to the Moroccan citizens and youth in particular, when they opt for verbal violence or insults during the parliamentary debates or beyond! This language should be completely banned! we need political parties that certainly mentor and accept politically active citizenry and are capable of transcending civic values to generations to come in the framework of tolerance and respect, because this is what will built a strong and peaceful Morocco; divisive politics is not the road to strengthen the parliament as a people’s institution! I hope political parties are aware of these responsibilities.
– Political parties and their practices are being watched globally by academics, foreign governments, foreign monetary institutions, think-tanks, NGOs, and investors! Their conduct can enhance or ruin the country’s credibility and image. As such, I hope the language and content of the public debates in the parliament improves; I hope the transparency and the reaching out by the new house representatives towards civil society and other constituents will also improve. I hope we see more house representatives who can give us the pleasure of thinking, debating, and presenting to us what they think would be the best course of dealing with problems that Morocco is facing. Political parties should train a new generation of politicians who can work at a multilateral level and who are capable of gaining the trust and respect of Morocco’s national stakeholders and international friends and partners!
– In light of the advanced regionalization mandate that Morocco launched since 2009 to foster good governance at the local and regional level, the current Political parties are once more required to develop the technical and political capacity to implement and accompany (through the local and regional councils) the important initiatives and programs launched by His Majesty the King to promote Morocco’s sustainable socioeconomic development.
Last but not least, Political parties are an integral part of Morocco’s democratic institutions’ building. If they engage in successful and ethical political practices that are truly participatory and inclusive, this will automatically strengthen Morocco’s steady democratization process. I hope that this election will witness an increase in consensus building, an improved inter-party collaboration on important social policies that are acceptable by the Moroccan society, and a shift towards a culture of political parties’ dialogue, cooperation, and support for successful socio-economic initiatives.
I am wishing good luck to all contestants. Regardless of who will win in this election, at the end of the day, I still think that the elections remain a great exercise in the practice of democracy, and it’s worth the time and energy that Morocco engages in. I congratulate my country, Morocco, for the continuity of this democratic process and I hereby call to its strengthening through political parties’ dialogue and reflection on how best to bring about internal reforms furthering political parties’ openness, inclusivity, and inner democracy.
Saoussane Rifai is an International Development Consultant, Gender Expert, and Lecturer based in Rabat, Morocco. She holds a MA in Conflict Resolution from Brandeis University, off Boston, USA and a BA in Business Administration from Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco. She can be contacted through her Facebook Page or on Linkedin.