Moroccan Prime Minister Benkirane stays at the helm of the PJD

Sunday 12/06/2016
A 2015 file picture shows Secretary-General of the Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) Abdelilah Benkirane giving a speech in the city of Sale, north of the Moroccan capital Rabat.

Casablanca - Moroccan Prime Min­ister Abdelilah Ben­kirane will continue to lead the Islamist Justice and Develop­ment Party (PJD) after the bloc met in a special congress and reaffirmed his leadership position ahead of Oc­tober 7th parliamentary elections and increasing pressure over pro­posed pension reforms.
Local media give Benkirane, who has been prime minister since 2011, credit for the Islamist party’s advance in the polls in 2015, espe­cially after he took he took on the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM), which is backed by the royal palace and the political establish­ment.
Under Benkirane’s leadership, the PJD won political control of the cities of Casablanca, Rabat and Fez. PAM was victorious in rural areas where incumbent government of­ficials enjoy strong public support.
Benkirane had succeeded in rein­ing in the party’s fundamentalist factions and the PJD remains the most conservative party in Moroc­co, a stand that brings the backing of the majority of the middle class, including those with no leaning to­wards the Islamists.
Saadeddine Othmani, a former Foreign Affairs minister and the chairman of PJD’s National Council, said: “The most important thing is to come first in the polls. The rest is accessory because the appointment of the future head of government comes from royal prerogatives, not the PJD.”
During the May 28th congress, Benkirane told party members: “Citizens feel that this government cares about their situations by tak­ing steps such as activation of the Social Cohesion Fund, the payment of pensions to divorced women, the increase in student scholarships and lower medicine prices.
“The government has man­aged to rebalance public finances through reforms such as the com­pensation fund.”
However, major trade unions across Morocco called a 24-hour strike for June 7th in protest against “the government’s lack of social dialogue” over a draft bill to reform pensions that crippled parts of the country.
The proposed reforms include increasing the retirement age from 60 to 63 years and raising indi­vidual contributions to pension funds. Under the proposal, workers would contribute 14% of their sala­ries by 2019 to the retirement fund. Government contributions would also rise. The government argues that, unless the fund is radically reformed, the pensions of about 400,000 workers would be jeop­ardised.
“We have been facing a stubborn government that does not believe in dialogue, but… in destroying people’s purchasing power,” Mil­oudi Moukharik, secretary-general of the Moroccan Labour Union, told Reuters.
Unions control 20 of the 120 seats of the upper house of Morocco’s parliament.