The end of the ideologically-strained alliance between the PPS and the PJD prompts questions about the futures of both parties.
Rabat – When the Party of Progress and Socialism (PPS) announced its withdrawal from the current government coalition, led by its Islamist ally the Justice and Development Party (PJD), it signaled the end of a honeymoon between two political formations that, until the handshake on their collaboration in late 2011, had very little in common.
The left-wing party exited the government ahead of a reshuffle that was heralded by some media outlets as the end of the government coalition. Speculation was rife that the cabinet reshuffle would see the PPS reduced to just one ministerial department, or removed from the coalition altogether.
In any case, the decision that was taken by PPS’ political bureau and endorsed by its central committee on October 4 marks the end of 22 years of participation in the Moroccan government.
Despite being relatively small in size compared to other political formations, PPS remained a key player in government coalitions since 1997. The party played a role in Moroccan politics that exceeded the number of parliamentary seats the party won with every election.
PPS’s participation in three governments from 1997 to 2011 (led by then-prime ministers Abderrahmane El Youssoufi, Driss Jetto, and Abbas El Fassi) was understood because it was part of a coalition led by either of its two historical allies, the Socialist Union of Popular Forces, best known by its French acronym USFP, and the Party of Istiqlal (PI).
The three formed what was known in Arabic as the ‘’Koutla Demoqratiya’’ (the Democratic bloc). The ‘’Koutla’’ was the main political opposition to the late King Hassan II and the governments were led by parties which his infamous Ministry of Interior had created to win elections through fraud.
But, when in 2011 the former leader of PJD, Abdelilah Benkirane, extended an invitation to PPS to join his coalition, the party was divided over whether to accept or reject the groundbreaking offer.
The main subject of contention was the ideological differences between the ex-communist party and the Islamists. The two parties were on opposite sides when the controversy over the change in the family code broke out at the turn of the 21st century; the changes were deemed by conservatives as too liberal.
At the time PPS’ former minister Mohamed Said Saadi was heading the ministerial department that introduced the plan to reform the ‘’Moudawana’’.
So, when PPS’s members were urged by their leadership to accept Benkirane’s extended hand to join his upcoming government, Saadi was the most prominent detractor from the potential ‘’unholy’’ alliance.
Despite being divided over the issue, PPS ended up accepting the offer. Over time the ex-communist party became PJD’s closest ally. The alliance was fostered by a strong relationship between the leaders of the two parties, Benkirane, and Mohamed Nabil Benabdellah.
Benkirane was so generous with PPS that he offered them four ministerial departments in his first government. This was something that the left-wing party had never achieved in the past, while serving alongside its longtime allies.
A political quagmire
Other factors also contributed to solidifying this partnership. In July 2013 the Party of Istiqlal, then led by the highly controversial Hamid Chabat, withdrew from the government over a disagreement with Benkirane, forcing the latter to swallow his pride and invite his foes at the National Rally of Independents (RNI) to join his majority.
The fourth party to join the coalition, the Popular Movement (MP), was easily swayed left or right and was not an ally Benkirane could count on in times of need.
In 2016, MP sided with RNI in an effort to twist Benkirane’s hand as he sought forming a government after an impressive victory in general elections. Both parties said they would only join Benkirane’s coalition if two of their allies, the USFP and the Constitutional Union (UC), could join as well. Furthermore, Benkirane had to exclude Chabat and his party, with whom he reconciled, from any coalition.
Facing such adversity, PPS was the only true friend the Islamist party had. Siding with PJD proved, however, to be politically detrimental to the left-wing party when it became entangled in the existing tension between the PJD and the Royal Palace.
In September 2016, Benabdellah drew upon himself and his party the wrath of the Royal palace when he criticized the King’s friend and personal advisor Fouad Ali El Himma for his alleged continued support for the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM), which he co-founded in 2008.
The Royal palace issued an unprecedented communiqué in harsh-language. The communique accused Benabdellah of making ‘’false statements’’ during an election period. PAM was hoping at the time to defeat PJD but ultimately the Islamist party prevailed.
PPS would, later on, pay a heavier price for its alliance with PJD. In October 2017, King Mohammed VI dismissed Benabdellah, then the minister of housing, and Houcine El Ouardi, who served as the minister of health under both Benkirane and the current Head of Government Saad Eddine El Othmani.
The two PPS cabinet members, along with two other ministers, were accused of poor performance and were held responsible for the delay of projects in Al Hoceima, the scene of months-long protests calling for employment and development for the impoverished region.
Members of the left-wing party felt that their ministers had been singled out by the Royal Palace. PPS’ former secretary-general Moulay Ismail Alaoui said that his party co-members “did not deserve to be sacked’’, expressing his astonishment over why other ministers, whose departments were also involved in the projects, had been spared.
What next for the PPS?
Now that the ex-communist party prepares to regain the opposition parliamentary seats after two decades in government questions arise. The future of the PPS itself comes into question, but also the future of its former ally, the PJD.
While the PJD theoretically continues to lead the government coalition, the question is how much influence the Islamists will really retain now they are left with parties that historically have shown them little sympathy.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial views.
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