Benchamach elected leader of Morocco’s main opposition party

Benchamach has only two years, a little less, to prepare his party for elections.
Sunday 03/06/2018
New leader of Morocco’s main opposition Party of Authenticity and Modernity Hakim Benchamach.(Hakim Benchamach)
Tough task. New leader of Morocco’s main opposition Party of Authenticity and Modernity Hakim Benchamach.(Hakim Benchamach)

CASABLANCA - Hakim Benchamach is the new leader of Morocco’s main opposition Party of Authenticity and Modernity (PAM).

PAM members elected Benchamach as their secretary-general during a special session of the party’s national council. Benchamach received 439 votes out of 529.

Benchamach’s election to lead PAM ends the long chapter of doubt caused by his predecessor, Ilyas el-Omari, who led the party from early 2016.

Omari announced his surprise resignation last August but froze it during a national council session the following month, pending an extraordinary meeting and leaving the party in limbo. It was not until May 8 that Omari confirmed he would step down after a long committee meeting tasked with preparing the extraordinary session of the National Council to elect a new leader.

After Benchamach was elected, he said he would set out a vision based on collegial management of the party’s affairs with expanded responsibilities granted to members of the political bureau.

Benchamach, a native of the country’s northern Rif area and a former leftist activist, will serve as a “modernist” bulwark against the ruling Islamist Justice and Development (PJD) party, consolidating Omari’s anti-Islamist policy.

PAM’s new leader said his party would remain in opposition.

Hassan Alaoui, director of the Maroc Diplomatique, wrote in an editorial that Benchamach must reconcile sensibilities in the party and restore confidence in all those who have moved away from it.

“The marker is now the legislative poll of 2021. Benchamach has only two years, a little less, to prepare his party (for) this fundamental deadline, in principle supposed to be the major and structural issue for an inevitable political transition,” said Alaoui.

Political analyst Hicham Amadi told Atlantic Radio that Benchamach’s election was the result of an agreement to put someone at the helm of the party until Omari’s likely comeback in 2020.

Benchamach, who is seen as close to Omari, has led Morocco’s second chamber of parliament since 2015, making him the country’s fourth most important political figure.

He served as deputy secretary-general of PAM from February 2009-February 2012, chairman of his party’s parliamentary group (2009-15) and chairman of Yaacoub El Mansour-Rabat district council from July 2009-August 2015.

Four people have led PAM in less than ten years as the main opposition party has sought stability despite striking progress since its founding in 2008 by Fouad Ali el-Himma, a close adviser to Moroccan King Mohammed VI.

PAM was second in parliamentary elections in October 2016, finishing behind the PJD, but lost some of its political influence to the National Rally of Independents (RNI), another liberal party favoured by the palace.

However, the popularity of RNI, which is led by Agriculture Minister Aziz Akhannouch — Morocco’s richest man — is dwindling due to the boycott campaign against his Afriquia petrol stations.

Amadi warned that PAM needs reform because it was at risk of implosion.

“Benchamach’s political project is based on one sentence: against PJD. It is not a political project. I have a tiny hope to see a real change of the party’s political project,” he said.

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