Rabat – Voting rates for Moroccan youth are remarkably low. But while young Moroccans remain disenchanted with formal politics, they look to other venues to make their voices heard.
Despite an uptick in voter turnout in Morocco’s recent elections and widespread awareness campaigns educating citizens on the importance of voting, numbers remain lower than ideal. Sixteen million of Morocco’s 34 million citizens are registered to vote,but only 10 percent of those registered cast their ballots.
Moroccan citizens often express resentment of the poor performance of politicians, citing that they’re unable to solve citizens’ daily problems. However, voting is not the route many take to solve the issue. Critics say there’s no transparency guaranteed in elections and allege that the Royal establishment has used its influence to favor pro-monarchy parties.
Morocco is a constitutional monarchy, and the King (currently Mohammed VI) has ultimate authority. The 395 seats in the House of Representatives are elected by the people. Of these, 305 seats are elected from multi-member constituencies, and 90 seats are elected from a nationwide constituency. Sixty of these seats are reserved for women, and 30 reserved for people under the age of 40. Under the current electoral system, no party can win a majority in parliament, and they must form a coalition.
Feelings of Exclusion
One of the largest populations abstaining from the vote is Moroccan youth. They tend to be disengaged from mainstream, electoral, and party politics. This isn’t to say, however, that Moroccan youth aren’t interested in politics. While failing to participate in formal processes, millennials find other ways to express their political views and effect change.
According to a report on youth political perceptions in Morocco by the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the tendency towards nonparticipation is strong and can be attributed to a variety of factors. Here, taking into account the context of youth activity matters when understanding low youth voting rates.
Young Moroccans are overwhelmingly concerned with issues that affect their daily lives, like jobs and education, yet remain positive about the current direction of their country due to positive indicators like constitutional reforms. A young woman from Oujda reflected on the elections of 2011 and 2016, saying, “I think it’s the first time political parties consider the viewpoints of people, mainly youth. It’s the first time a political leader uses language that we young people understand. Years before when someone talked about politics, people didn’t understand anything.”
A majority of young focus group participants in the NDI’s study characterized recent elections as a step forward. The fact that a historic opposition party won the largest number of seats in Parliament is seen as a positive development.
Yet votes remain dismally low, and 41 percent of youth are not active in politics at all. This may be partly attributed to awareness of the predominance of the monarchy. A young male activist in Rabat stated that “the King concentrates all powers, and the rest is marginal… The centrality of the Monarchy is stressed all the time by the current head of government. The youth in Morocco are aware of this reality.”
Youth also tend to mistrust government institutions. Of those interviewed by NDI, only 31 percent expressed confidence in the government, and 13 percent trusted political parties and parliament. The main reasons for intentionally abstaining from voting was a lack of trust in the candidates, at a rate of nearly 40 percent. Almost all characterized the general performance of political parties as “extremely unsatisfactory.”
In addition to lack of trust, young Moroccans doubt the elections’ abilityto result in significant change. Some think that party victories are engineered to calm the streets, while others’ lingering disaffection with electoral politics leads to the belief that, no matter what, their voices will not be heard.
“Elections aren’t credible. Nothing changes. When they win, politicians disappear. That’s a reason for abstinence,” says a young woman from Errachidia. A man from the same town says, “For me these elections are just like other elections before. No elections have ever brought any structural change.”
Instead, youth seek more responsiveness from political parties. This means further engagement and campaigns based on realistic promises. Lack of youth engagement creates a sense that public participation in electoral politics will quickly dissipate if citizens don’t recognize the government’s attempts towards new approaches and creating change.
NDI found a unanimous consensus among youth for the need for parties to keep the promises they give during campaigns. Participants also linked their intention to vote to the degree of responsiveness they feel from parties. This could be largely improved with active citizen engagement, acting on common needs, and giving young people chances to participate in party decision making.
So, if young Moroccans are aware of the problems inherent to their government, why don’t they vote in an attempt to effect change?
Because they prefer voicing their opinions in less conventional ways: on the internet, in political protests, and in the streets. When excluded from established institutions, young people create their own spaces to have their voice heard in politics. Despite a noticeable tendency of weak participation among youth in formal politics, they do not mobilize though existing channels. Rather, they’re more interested in activism through informal processes.
A study by Palmer and Dedelcovych showed that 30 percent of respondents aimed to exert influence through forms of protest, strike, writing to the press, or contacting officials directly. It is felt among Moroccan youth that engaging through informal processes gives more freedom to express themselves.
Regardless of low voting rates, young people are not politically apathetic, even though few are conventional participants. There are high rates of interest in politics and a strong sense of agency, though this does not necessarily translate into formally recognized actions. This suggests widespread alienation from government systems and lack of enthusiasm with what Morocco has to offer politically. If Moroccan politicians and parties are concerned with connecting to young people, they must first appeal to the goals of a generation interested in deep engagement, effective change, and progressive ideals.