A contentious campaign sets the stage for Morocco elections

Sunday 02/10/2016
Ilyas el Omari, vice-secretary-general of Morocco’s Party of Authenticity and Modernity (PAM), speaks during a press conference on September 23rd, in Casablanca.

Rabat - Loyalists of Morocco’s reform-minded King Mo­hammed VI have been at loggerheads with Islamists during the final stages of the campaign before the October 7th parliamentary elections.

More than 30 political parties, in­cluding the Istiqlal Party, the Con­stitutional Union and the Socialist Union of Popular Forces, are tak­ing part in the elections. But two parties — the Authenticity and Mo­dernity Party (PAM), reputed to be close to the palace, and the Justice and Development Party (PJD) — have dominated the campaign and are expected to lead after the vote.

Neither is likely to win a comfort­able majority that would allow for control of the next government, however.

Islamists of the PJD led the vote tally in the 2011’s legislative polls as the kingdom weathered the “Arab spring” unrest. The more radical Islamists of Al Adl Wal Ihssane and their allies on the radical left led demonstrations in 2011 in more than 30 cities across Morocco. The PJD did not take part in the protests but politically benefited from them as its leaders cast the party as best capable of defending the palace’s legitimacy and popularity.

The king subsequently enacted political reforms that included giv­ing more power to the elected prime minister, based on a new constitu­tion endorsed by referendum.

This year, Abdelilah Benkirane, the PJD’s leader and outgoing prime minister, has voiced unprecedent­ed criticism of the palace’s role in running the state, arguing that there were “two governments” in the country. His criticism prompted a rebuke from the palace.

It remains to be seen whether Benkirane maintains or improves the PJD’s poll results and, if so, whether he will seek to expand the prerogatives of a PJD-led govern­ment.

The PJD holds 107 seats in the 395-member parliament and leads the current governing coalition along with the Party of Progress and Socialism, the National Rally of Independents and the Popular Movement. PAM has 47 seats.

However, PAM leaders see the upcoming elections going their way. “We will obtain more seats than the rival party and we will be the first political party in these elections,” said Abdellatif Ouahbi, a leading human rights lawyer and top official in PAM.

“Our proposals were well re­ceived by citizens, which indicates we will probably lead in these elec­tions and that we have all the re­quired potential to rule in the fu­ture.”

PAM is the brainchild of the king’s former adviser Fouad Ali el- Himma, who created the party in 2007 based on the idea that Mo­rocco could face a crisis by 2010 and the movement could help the country’s political system make the necessary transition.

PAM’s leader Ilyas el-Omari, spearheaded the party’s current campaign behind the slogan “We want change now”, working on the impatience of modernist politicians close to the palace. Benkirane has quoted extremist Salafist spiritual leader Ibn Taymiyyah in campaign speeches that glorified martyrdom. He has also sought the support of radical Salafists.

Commenting on the rejection of the candidacy of a Salafist sheikh on an electoral list of the PJD, Ouah­bi said: “There is danger because the majority of Salafists are sup­porting statements that may impair the democratic process, curb the freedom of others and distress the Moroccan principles.

“With the proliferation of terror­ist groups and the spread of Salafist thought, the leftist movements should revamp their considerations to defend freedom and democracy and build the nation of rightfulness and justice.”

Ouahbi said PAM owes its success to attracting middle-class voters and a large number of businessmen and elites. The party dismissed ac­cusations of using tainted money in electoral campaigns and being a political tool for the monarchy.

PAM brands itself as a centre-left party promoting social democracy but its perceived ties to the monar­chy led Progress and Socialist Party Secretary-General Mohamed Nabil Benabdallah to say “our problem is not with PAM as a political party but with those who are behind it and the man who founded it, and all this exactly embodies the idea of dominance”.

In response, Ouahbi said: “All political parties in Morocco are par­ties of the state and common sense stipulates that the state is here to strengthen the political parties in moments of weakness and vice versa.

“The real ones who are pursu­ing ‘dominance’ are those who are using religion to exert control,” he said in reference to the PJD party.