Campaigning for parliamentary polls begins in Morocco
RABAT - Campaigning began in Morocco on Saturday for parliamentary polls that pit a modernist opposition against Islamists rocked by scandals after five years in government.
The Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) swept to victory in 2011 polls, prompting comparisons with Egypt\'s Muslim Brotherhood.
Heading up a coalition including liberals, communists and conservatives, it found itself guiding Morocco through the turbulence of the Arab Spring, economic woes and a constitutional overhaul.
Five years later, it is on the back foot after a series of scandals including the sacking of two PJD vice presidents found in a \"sexual position\" on a beach, a drugs bust involving three tonnes of cannabis and a dodgy land-grab deal.
Its main rival, the modernist opposition Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM), has vowed to \"liberate\" Morocco from the PJD and warned that another term for the ruling party would spell \"catastrophe\".
Despite limited success in tackling graft, the PJD retains considerable support and remains the only Islamist party in power in the region.
If re-elected, it says it will press ahead with its economic reforms which are credited with lowering the budget deficit.
The polls are also expected to see Salafist candidates make a return to electoral politics after years in the wilderness.
A fundamentalist preacher, Hamed Kabbaj, was a surprise candidate for the PJD, but authorities barred him from the vote over his alleged ties to \"extremism\".
Almost 7,000 candidates from around 30 parties will contest parliament\'s 395 seats in a poll that King Mohammed VI has promised will be \"honest and transparent\".
Polls in 2002 marked a new era of relative democracy in Morocco, three years after Mohammed took over following the death of his father, King Hassan II.
Although the king retains ultimate power, constitutional reforms following the Arab Spring-inspired protests removed some of his prerogatives.
PJD candidates have accused a \"parallel state\" of using \"authoritarian methods\" to control political life.