Moroccan king names Othmani as new prime minister

Sunday 19/03/2017
Up the ladder. Saad Eddine El Othmani of the Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) is seen after being named new prime minister by King Mohammed VI in Rabat, on March 17th. (Reuters)

Casablanca - Moroccan King Mo­hammed VI appoint­ed a new prime min­ister from the Islamist Justice and Devel­opment Party (PJD) to form a gov­ernment after ousted premier Ab­delilah Benkirane failed to break a political deadlock over five months.
The Moroccan monarch named former Foreign minister and psy­chiatrist Saad Eddine El Othmani to form a new government two days after removing Benkirane.
Othmani was secretary-general of the PJD from 2004-08. He served as Foreign minister from January 2012 to October 2013.
“The king extolled, on several oc­casions, the designated prime min­ister (Benkirane) to accelerate the creation of a new government,” the royal palaces said in a statement March 15th.
“The king took the decision in the absence of signs that suggest an imminent formation of a govern­ment and due to his concern about overcoming the current blockage in political negotiations,” it added.
Article 47 in the Constitution stipulates that “the king appoints the head of government from the political party that topped the par­liamentary elections in the light of their results”.
Benkirane’s response to being removed as prime minister was limited to saying: “There are no comments about the king’s deci­sion. The talks are over.” He said he would step down from the lead­ership of the PJD in the coming months.
Benkirane was appointed prime minister in 2011 after the PJD won legislative elections for the first time. PJD’s victory came during a time massive street protests swept the country. The demonstrations drove the monarchy to grant con­cessions, including the approval of a new constitution that transferred some of its power to parliament.
In October, the PJD increased its number of seats in parliament but it did not secure an absolute majority and failed to form a coalition gov­ernment with rival parties. Negotia­tions with the National Rally of In­dependents (RNI) party, led by Aziz Akhannouch, ended January 17th when talks between Benkirane and Akhannouch reached an impasse.
The RNI had laid out several con­ditions for its participation in an Islamist-led government, includ­ing inclusion of the Constitutional Union (UC), the Popular Move­ment (MP) and the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP) in a bloc while leaving out the conservative, monarchist Istiqlal Party (PI).
The parties clashed over the role of the USFP, which the RNI said would strengthen the coalition but which Benkirane refused to include in his government.
Last November, Benkirane said he would admit failure to the king if he was unsuccessful in forming a government but it was the king who stepped in to replace the prime minister, a rare decision that the royal palace said was necessary “to overcome the current situation of immobility and in his constant con­cern for consolidating democratic choice”.
Morocco’s political deadlock has been hugely damaging, not only delaying the government’s reform programme but also hurting the country’s business and investment climate. Until a new government is formed, the country’s budget can­not be approved.
Mountacir Zian, director-general of the Mediterranean Company of Analysis and Strategic Intelligence based in Rabat, said he expected one of two scenarios to play out. The first would be that a newly ap­pointed prime minister accepted the USFP in the coalition govern­ment, possibly creating friction within the PJD.
The second scenario, Zian said, “is that the new PM will accept the nomination and call for the disso­lution of the parliament and new elections, a situation from which the PJD will emerge as a winner”.
“In this case, we can say that the PJD will benefit from popular sup­port,” Zian said.