New York – When analyzing the results of Morocco’s parliamentary elections, it appears clearly that two parties have emerged as major winners. From a political standpoint the PJD is the major winner. Despite the fact that it is the incumbent leader of the coalition government and it was subjected to fierce criticism during the electoral campaign, it not only secured the first spot, but it also increased its number of seats in parliament from 107 to 125, with a comfortable margin in comparison with other parties.
The second winner, in terms of relative gain, is the Party of Authenticity and Modernity (PAM). This opposition party succeeded in doubling the number of its seats from 47 in 2011 to 102 in 2016. In addition, it reinforced its status as Morocco’s second political force and the PJD’s strongest political rival.
On the other hand, we can look at the results of the elections from two different perspectives. The first perspective is somehow positive, since the elections took place under normal conditions without any major incidents. This shows that Moroccans are attached to the stability of the country and believe that the monarchy and democracy are the only guarantees against instability. In addition, unlike the 2011 elections, no political leaders have protested the results of the elections or called into question the way in which the elections took place.
Additionally, the fact that the PJD won the majority means that what some call the “deep state” is abiding by the will of the majority of Moroccans and did not intervene to alter the final results of the polls. In this regard, one can safely say that the elections were democratic, free, and transparent.
Before the elections, many feared that the “deep state” was bent on favoring the PAM and that the monarchy was not willing to spend five more years of cohabitation with the PJD. The facts on the ground show that these claims were based on unfounded arguments. The fact that there was an unprecedented uncertainty until the last moments of the elections about the winner of the elections indicates that these elections were not marred by fraud. These elections also convey to the world the message that Morocco is the only country in the MENA region that can hold major elections on a regular basis without mishaps.
The dark side of the elections
However, this positive picture should not push us to overlook the second perspective, which is negative. That voter turnout did not exceed 43 percent of registered voters means that Moroccan political parties have failed in their mission to mobilize the masses to fully participate in the political process, a goal that Morocco has striven toward since 2011.
Before Friday’s elections, most parties were hopping that voter turnout would be higher than in 2011, when it reached 45 percent. The lower than expected turnout translates both the failure of Morocco’s political elites to convince the Moroccan people to partake in the democratic process, as well as the fact that Moroccans have lost trust in their politicians.
This turnout in not surprising, especially if we take into consideration the total lack of interest that most Moroccans show toward politics. When I talk to my fellow Moroccans and try to learn about their views on Morocco’s politics, the main idea I get is that they are completely unconcerned with what parties do, and don’t take their promises seriously.
Most Moroccans will tell you that no matter whom they vote for, it will have no impact on their daily life, nor improve their living conditions, create jobs, or improve the quality of education and the health system. The fact that less than 45 percent of registered voters participated in the election clearly shows that Moroccans have grown tired of seeing the same faces leading the political show for several decades, and that there was a poor quality of the political debate during the electoral campaign.
In fact, while Moroccans expected their political leaders to propose solid and realistic programs on how they intend to put the country on the right track towards building a resilient economy, improve its ailing education and health system, and provide job opportunities to the youth, the political debate was restricted to a multi-round fight in which each party attempted to weaken the others by the exploitation of scandals.
The low quality of political discourse conveyed the wrong message to the overwhelming majority of Moroccans and convinced them that their political leaders are only concerned with attaining and keeping their power, with little to no regard for people’s most pressing issues.
The PJD emerges stronger than in 2011
On the other hand, the PJD’s victory takes on a meaningful message and comes to confirm the results that the Islamist party achieved during last year’s municipal and regional elections, when it also won the most votes. That the PJD has secured most of the seats in several major cities, such as Casablanca, Fez, Marrakech, Tangier, and others, shows that the party is consolidating its status as the main reference for the middle class in Morocco’s urban areas. This also shows that, unlike other parties, the PJD has succeeded in building a stable base of dedicated supporters who believe in its political project.
What makes the PJD’s victory more meaningful is that it comes while the party has been leading the coalition government for the past 5 years. In most Western democracies, the party that participates in elections while in power often suffers from a punitive vote as a result of the decisions it made during while running the government. Such was the case, for example, in France in the 2002 legislative and presidential elections, when the outgoing head of the socialist government, Lionel Jospin, lost in the first round of the presidential elections. The same scenario happened with Sarkozy during the presidential elections of 2012, when he failed to secure a second term as President.
This is the not first time that the incumbent party in Morocco has won the legislative elections. The same scenario happened with the Socialist Union of Popular Forces in the 2002 elections after it had led the government from 1998 to 2002. However, the margin secured by the PJD on Friday is larger than the one secured by the USFP in 2002.
The fact that Benkirane secured his seat in parliament and all members of the party’s political bureau and its members of the government have kept their seats can be considered as plebiscite to Benkirane and its government. These results also mean that the PJD was not affected by the controversial and hard decisions that the government made since it came to office, such as the reform of the pension system, the reform of the compensation system, and the liberalization of fuel prices. Moroccans voters still believe that PJD leaders have “clean hands” and are the ones able to undertake the reforms that Morocco need to achieve progress and work hand in hand with the King in order preserve the country’s stability.
An earlier version of this article was published on the New Arab
Samir Bennis is the co-founder of and editor-in-chief of Morocco World News. You can follow him on Twitter @SamirBennis