Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Morocco Gets Its Own Muslim Brother Prime Minister
By Eric Walberg
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, December 8, 2011
Morocco, with its 35 million people, where 1 in 3 are unemployed
and poverty is widespread, has had multi-party elections since independence
in 1956 without anyone taking much notice. Even Western Saharans get a taste
of democracy from Rabat, however bitter.
The Arab Spring and public
protests, organised by the 20 February youth movement and the Islamist Al-Adl
wa Al-Ihssane, suddenly made genuine elections an important weapon in the
king’s arsenal. King Mohammed VI immediately announced a process of
constitutional reform and a promise to relinquish some of his administrative
powers. Following a referendum in July with 70 per cent turnout and (a
suspicious) 98 per cent approval, the new constitution was ratified in
September, and parliamentary elections held last week.
In the new
constitution, the king gives up his power to appoint the prime minister,
agreeing to appoint the leader of the party winning the most seats in a
parliamentary election. This independent PM in turn would now have the power
to appoint senior civil servants, diplomats, even cabinet members, and the
power to dissolve parliament -- in consultation with the king’s ministerial
There were a total of 30 parties in this year’s race, the
three leaders being the moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party, an
eight-party pro-monarchy Coalition for Democracy, and the Koutla Alliance of
Istiqlal, the Socialist Union of Popular Forces and the Party of Progress
and Socialism, headed by incumbent Prime Minister Abbas El-Fassi, head of
the Istiqlal Party.
The Majlis Al-Nuwab (lower house) has 395 seats,
305 elected from party lists, plus 90 from a national list with two-thirds
reserved for women and the remaining third reserved for men under the age of
40. The Justice and Development Party won 107 seats, making its leader
Abdelillah Benkirane prime minister designate.
While turnout (45 per
cent) was up from the questionable 2007 elections, critics complain that the
current registration system has left up to a third of eligible voters off
the rolls. A remarkable 20 per cent of ballots were spoiled, indicating a
strong protest vote.
Parallels with Egypt’s transition to democracy
are strong: both youth movements strongly criticised their respective
elections as window-dressing, leaving the real power (veto power over
legislation, cabinet appointments, and control of security) in the hands of
the king in the case of Morocco, and the army in the case of Egypt. Many
youth have refused to vote as a result and continue to press their demands
for a real transition of power to a civilian government. Unlike in Egypt, in
Morocco the Islamic Al-Adl wa Al-Ihssane joined the secular youth in their
boycott of the elections.
The distribution of seats now is: Justice
and Development Party (107), Istiqlal Party (60), National rally of
independents (52), Authenticity and Modernity Party (47), Socialist Union of
Popular Forces (39), Popular movement (32), Constitutional Union (23), Party
of Progress and Socialism (18), Labour party (4), other parties (13).
Word is that the Justice and Development Party, which promises to cut
poverty in half and raise the minimum wage by 50 per cent, would govern in
coalition with the leftwing nationalist-socialist Koutla bloc.
Eric Walberg writes for Al-Ahram Weekly
can reach him at http://ericwalberg.com/
His Postmodern Imperialism: Geopolitics and the Great Games is available at