Moroccan Prime Minister Benkirane stays at the helm of the PJD
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.