Economy, environment and war of words marked Moroccan campaign

Sunday 09/10/2016
Abdelilah Benkirane, secretary-general of Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD)

CASABLANCA - Parliamentary elections in Morocco culminated a heated battle, which often focused on envi­ronmental and economic issues, between the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) led by Ilyas el-Omari and the ruling Islam­ist Justice and Development Party (PJD) of Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane.
In Ba M’hammad village, during his election campaign tour, Ben­kirane blasted PAM for “bribing” people to get their votes. He said he was fighting “bandits” who want to control the country’s wealth and install their influence everywhere.
Omari accused Benkirane of hav­ing done nothing to improve edu­cation or health care. During the campaign he stressed that voters should not give the Islamist-led government another opportunity to lead Morocco because it misused international loans and failed to achieve job growth and economic development it had promised.
In an interview with the Associat­ed Press, the PAM leader suggested that the Islamist-led government is responsible for the radicalisation of Moroccan youth, especially in his northern region of Tangier-Tet­ouan-Al Hoceima.
Omari said PAM would support more women in high-ranking gov­ernment positions to counter “the misogyny” of Benkirane and the PJD, a reference to there being only one female minister in the current cabinet.
Omari’s campaigning apparently reached voters as PAM saw a sharp increase in the number of seats won October 7th from 47 in the previ­ous government to 102 in the next 395-seat House of Representatives, early results indicated.
Benkirane’s PJD also increased its representation, although not as dramatically. The ruling party showed a net gain of 18 seats to 125. That figure is short of a major­ity needed to control the legislature outright and PJD will again need to put together a coalition to consoli­date to power.
One of its previous coalition part­ners Istiqlal — the Independence Party — was third with 46 seats, down from its 2011 election win of 60 members in the legislature.
Turnout was reported by the In­terior Ministry as 43%, said to be relatively disappointing although not far off the 45% who voted in 2011.
Among Omari’s attacks was an as­sault on PJD’s choice of candidates, some of whom are relatives of Is­lamist political leaders.
“Our candidates were selected for their competence and not by nepotism such as the PJD,” he said.
The Moroccan prime minister’s wife Nabila Benkirane, daughter and son vied for seats. Mimouna Aftati, wife of MP Abdelaziz Aftati, is also on the PJD candidacy list.
Relatives of prominent political figures from other parties also ran for office. Naoufel Chabat, the son of Secretary-General of the Inde­pendence Party (PI) Hamid Chabat, competed in Fez despite being implicated in a fraud case regard­ing the elections for the House of Councillors a year ago. He was re­cently handed an eight-month sus­pended prison sentence.
Most of the parties set out green policies in their manifestos, high­lighting a growing awareness to want to protect the environment.
The PJD called for the develop­ment of an integrated water strat­egy by 2050, without providing details on how to implement it. The ruling party also called for an accelerated anti-desertification and reforestation strategy and for boosting funding to fight industrial pollution.
PAM proposed a pollution tax and encouraged the purchase of so­lar panels to generate clean energy. It also said it wanted to develop a programme aimed at reducing the consumption of fossil fuels.
The National Rally of Independ­ents (RNI), headed by Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar, proposed to develop ecological tourism and curb pollution caused by public transport. It also called for the adoption of a government policy in line with Morocco’s com­mitments during the United Na­tions’ COP 22 conference on climate change, which is scheduled for No­vember in Marrakech. Mezouar is president of COP 22.
Most of the political parties said they would seek to improve Mo­rocco’s economy through boosting exports, small and medium-sized enterprises, increasing public in­vestment in various sectors and re­ducing unemployment.
PJD offered an array of economic measures designed mainly to sup­port structural change of the na­tional economy through the pro­motion of the industrial sector and strengthening economic productiv­ity and competitiveness. It said it wanted to promote Moroccan ex­ports and sustainable development.
PAM put an emphasis on the pro­motion of small and medium-sized enterprises, offering to increase do­mestic and foreign investments as well as public-private partnerships. The opposition party proposed a five-year tax exemption for new in­dustrial firms.
The Federation of the Democratic Left (FGD), a left-wing coalition of the Unified Socialist Party (PSU), the Socialist Democratic Vanguard Party (PADS) and the National It­tihadi Congress Party (CNI), pro­moted a national industrial policy targeting high value-added sectors in a bid to create jobs, diversify eco­nomic partners and promote small and medium-sized enterprises.
FGD, which is led by fast-rising political figure Nabila Mounib, said it would like to diversify the nation­al economy and review free trade agreements that it says have wors­ened Morocco’s budget deficit and debt. It also proposed an overhaul of the financial sector through re­forming the banking system and the stock market.
The extreme left Annahj Addi­mocrati party (Democratic Path), led by Mustapha Brahma, boycotted the elections, which “do not serve” Moroccans’ interests, it said. Brah­ma said he considers PJD and PAM nothing but “two sides of the same coin”.
Left out of the process were hun­dreds of thousands of Moroccans living abroad, who were excluded from having their say in their coun­tries of residence despite being guaranteed the right to vote in the constitution. The Interior Ministry cited technical and logistical diffi­culties in opening polling stations across Western countries.