New York – On October 7, Morocco held its second parliamentary elections since the adoption of a new constitution in 2011. The elections confirmed the status of the Party of Justice and Development (PJD) as Morocco’s leading political party.
The outcome of the elections and the way in which the polls were conducted confirms Morocco’s status as the only country in the MENA region capable of organizing major elections under normal conditions and in accordance with the rule of democracy and transparency.
However, as many observers feared, voter turnout was lower than during the 2011 elections, with only 43 percent of the eligible population turning out to vote.
The new constitution grants greater powers to Morocco’s head of government as well as to parliament, and enables the elected branches of government to have more say in the most vital issues affecting the daily lives of Moroccan citizens.
Although the new constitution ushered in a new era of gradual democratization in Morocco, this process is weakened by the lack of participation by the majority of Moroccans in the political process.
While the new reforms paved the way for the democratisation of the country, this process is hampered by the very stakeholders who should uphold the process and fight to advance democracy.
The succession of governments and the worsening of living conditions for many segments of society, especially in inner cities, in addition to the deterioration of public services such as education and health, have led many Moroccans to believe that no matter who they vote for, their situations will not improve.
For the majority of Moroccans, the main obstacle that prevents their country from advancing is the incompetent political elite. Morocco’s political parties are perceived by many Moroccans as having strayed from their main mission to lead the country toward progress
Reports published by the United Nations and other international entities show that Moroccan politicians have failed to deliver on the promises they have made during electoral campaigns.
Because of the failure of successive governments to address the most pressing issues that affect the daily lives of Moroccans, the country continues to lag behind in the human development index, ranking 126th worldwide, even behind countries that are considered some of the poorest in the world.
Fight against poverty
Whether it is the fight against poverty, the overhaul of the health and education systems, or the creation of job opportunities, the government has not lived up to the expectations of Moroccans.
While four million Moroccans live below the poverty line, the health system is plagued by insufficient funding, public hospitals are in deplorable conditions, and youth unemployment is still rampant, especially among university graduates.
Available data show that while overall youth unemployment stands at 20.6 percent, in urban areas it ranges as high as 39.9 percent.
Of even greater concern to many Moroccans is the worsening of the country’s education system with the incumbent government’s strategy to expand the privatization of education.
Conducted over the past 15 years, this policy has pushed the United Nations to remind the Moroccan government that education is a public good and urged it to abide by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
One of the major factors that has prevented the country from moving forward and providing better prospects for its population is corruption. While the incumbent government made the fight against corruption its main goal in the 2011 legislative elections, it has arguably failed to deliver on its pledge.
The level of corruption in the country is worse than when it took office in 2011. According to the Corruption Perceptions Index published by Amnesty International last January, Morocco slid from 80th place in 2014 to 88th in 2015 in the global ranking, out of 162 countries. This ranking places Morocco in 10th place in the MENA region and 17th place in Africa, relegating it to the same level as it was in 2010 when it ranked 80th.
The lack of opportunities available to Moroccan youth to build a brighter future makes them lose faith in the ability of their politicians to advance the country to improve their living conditions.
It is widely believed that the chances of a young Moroccan to enter a political party and aspire to run for office are slim, unless he or she has family connections inside the party or comes from a wealthy family.
This situation is even more egregious in periods leading up to major elections. During such times, I have witnessed first-hand the heated debates and countless meetings that are held by the parties to decide on who will obtain the party’s endorsement to run for parliament. In these internal debates, what appears to matter most for many party leaders is not whether a candidate is fit to run for office, nor his/her qualifications, but rather his/her closeness to the party’s hierarchy or ability to pump money into the party’s coffers.
One recent and widely reported example of corruption within the political parties is the football pitch fiasco allegedly precipitated by former minister Mohamed Ouzzine.
Ouzzine, a member of the party of Popular Movement, was appointed as part of the first PJD-led coalition government in 2011 as minister of youth and sports. Three years later, he was reportedly dismissed by King Mohammed VI after the scandal that followed one of the matches of the FIFA Club World Cup in Rabat in December 2014.
Due to incompetent construction and supervision, the brand new Rabat football stadium could not withstand a few hours of heavy rain. Moroccans expressed their anger at the deplorable condition of the pitch and called for the dismissal of the minister. At the height of the scandal, Mohand Laenser, secretary general of the MP, acknowledged his party member’s responsibility in the scandal.
“The political responsibility is established and acknowledged, and we are waiting for the results of the investigation committee that was set up to take the necessary measures,” Laenser said in December 2014 at a forum organised by the state-owned news agency Maghreb Arab Press (MAP).
It is no wonder that most Moroccans do not trust the slogans touted by their politicians during the electoral campaigns. For Moroccans to enjoy the dividends of democracy, they need a renaissance of their political elite and the presence of politicians who have a democratic mindset, a sense of patriotism and a genuine willingness to discharge their duties for the common good.
As long as politicians are not held accountable for their wrongdoings, many Moroccans will shy away from participating in their country’s political process, thereby impeding the development of democracy in Morocco.
A shorter version of this article was published on Al Jazeera English
Samir Bennis is the co-founder of and editor-in-chief of Morocco World News. You can follow him on Twitter @SamirBennis