Elections in Morocco will not bring political change
Wednesday’s legislative elections in Morocco delivered a crushing defeat to the ruling party for justice and development, or PJD, a moderate Islamist party that was the largest in parliament since 2011. Thanks in part to mandatory quotas for female representation, the new generation of lawmakers is on the way to being more diverse, with more women, so as young people. But it will also be more deeply fragmented, and with the royalist parties emerging as the winners of the vote, the new parliament is unlikely to pose a significant challenge to King Mohammed VI, who controls nearly all levers of political power.
With 96% of the votes counted, the PJD had won just 12 of the 395 seats in the lower house of parliament, far from its previous total of 125. The biggest winner was the PJD’s former ruling partner, the National Party. independents. , or RNI, which held just 37 seats in the last legislature but won 97 this time around, according to provisional results.
Created in 1978, the RNI is mainly made up of businessmen, technocrats and civil servants. Its leader is Agriculture Minister Aziz Akhannouch, a billionaire tycoon who is the second richest man in the country after the king. He has close ties to the royal court and is a close friend of the king himself. His campaign platform focused on bread and butter issues rather than democratic reforms.
“The demands of citizens revolve around social welfare, doubling the budget of the health sector as well as achieving quality education,” Akhannouch said in a recent interview with a Moroccan media exit. His party wooed voters with the slogan “You Deserve Better,” which he wrote in the Moroccan dialect used by 85% of the country, rather than in traditional Arabic. The attempt to extend its reach to voters from more diverse socio-economic and educational backgrounds appears to have borne fruit.
Another royalist grouping, the Authenticity and Modernity Party or PAM, which previously led the opposition with 102 seats, came second this week with 82 seats so far. The conservative Istiqlal party, meanwhile, won 78 seats.
The next step is for the king to choose the prime minister of the party that has won the most votes. All bets are on Akhannouch, but he will still have to concoct a governing coalition and a cabinet which must also be approved by the king. The palace also controls Morocco’s economic policy agenda, despite Akhannouch’s campaign promises.
Voter turnout showed an improvement compared to the last elections in 2016from 43% to just over 50%. While this may still appear small by international standards, the upward change is nonetheless respectable given that COVID-19 restrictions were in place that prohibited the use of brochures and gatherings of more than 25 people. Ultimately, political parties adapted to the pandemic by running their campaigns online, and turnout may also have been boosted by the fact that regional and local elections were held simultaneously.
The new Moroccan parliament is on the way to being more diverse, with more women and young people represented, but also more deeply fragmented.
At the same time, this slightly higher turnout masks a high level of apathy among much of the Moroccan electorate, given the slow pace of political change. Shortly after a mass protest movement rocked the country in early 2011 during the Arab Spring uprisings, the king agreed to enact a new constitution that expanded the role of parliament, even though the real power remained with the monarchy. Successive PJD-led governments have attempted to open up more political space, but have been unable to bring real change to Morocco.
The new parliament is likely to prove even more powerless due to electoral reforms put in place last March, which changed the way parliamentary seats are distributed after elections. Morocco is now the only country in the world to make this distribution on the basis of the number of votes won in proportion to registered voters, rather than to the votes cast.
On the one hand, it allowed more of the country’s 31 political parties to enter parliament. But as Rania Elghazouli, researcher based in Rabat, wrote As this week’s polls approach, it also means that “no political party will be mathematically capable of exceeding 100 seats in parliament, making it very difficult to have a clear winner.” This ensures a greater degree of jostling between smaller parties and coalitions, while the king exercises even more control and power.
This year’s election had a slightly higher degree of gender diversity than any previous vote. A total of 2,329 women ran for parliament, representing over 34% of the total number of candidates. This is largely due to a mandatory quota system for women’s representation in government which has grown steadily since its introduction in 2002. In 2011, the national quota for women in parliament was doubled from 30 to 60, ensuring that women at least 15 percent of the lower house. Thirty seats were also reserved for people under 40, although in practice this mainly benefits men. At the end, 17% of legislators elected in 2011 were women. In 2016, the quotas remained the same and the share of women in parliament has risen to a total of 20.5%.
Yet many women leaders point out that there are still high levels of gender inequality in society. The former Moroccan Minister for Solidarity, Women and the Family and Social Development, Nouzha Skalli, recently told the Spanish news agency EFE, “We have normal ambitions which reflect the same commitments expressed in the Constitution, namely the duty of the State to impose parity. We don’t just sit below parity. She referred to article 19 of the Moroccan constitution of 2011, which states that “men and women enjoy the same civil, political, economic, social, cultural and environmental rights and freedoms (…) and the State acts to achieve parity between men and women. . “
While some countries, like Spain, have quotas that require parties to present a certain level of parity in the lists they present, Morocco has a unique system where voters choose candidates from two lists: A list all female which fulfills the required quota, and a second which includes both men and women. Many Moroccan women see this as an obstacle to gender parity, as the number of women on mixed lists typically does not exceed 2% due to deep-rooted sexism.
The quota for women was increased this year to 90, and the national list replaced by regional lists. Yet, one week before the elections, women were already asking for an increased quota. Preliminary results show women will hold at least 22.7 percent of seats in the new parliament, a marginal increase from the current 21 percent, given that a record number of women candidates have run. But it will be impossible to say how the new regional quota system worked until all the numbers are confirmed.
In the end, the real decision-making power in Morocco remains in the hands of the king. But it would be a mistake to overlook the other key point of these elections: Moroccan women are slowly but surely raising their voices and demanding more representation. For now, however, the only progress they are making is quotas, without which there would be no progress at all.
Alana Moceri is an international relations analyst, writer and professor at the IE School of Global and Public Affairs. Follow her on Twitter @alanamoceri.