Parliamentary vote reflects divisions within Morocco’s ruling coalition

The vote for speaker again showed the friction in the ruling coalition despite Moroccan prime minister’s claim that his government “is united.”
Sunday 21/10/2018
A file picture shows Moroccan Prime Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani speaking at the Moroccan Parliament in Rabat. (Reuters)
Cold shoulder. A file picture shows Moroccan Prime Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani speaking at the Moroccan Parliament in Rabat. (Reuters)

CASABLANCA - The Islamist ruling Justice and Development Party’s failure to convince Morocco’s coalition government parties to support its candidate for speaker of the House of Councillors reflects deep divisions among the allies, analysts said.

Hakim Benchamach, secretary-general of the opposition Authenticity and Modernity Party, was re-elected House speaker, defeating Nabil Chikhi, a last-minute candidate nominated by the Justice and Development Party (PJD), on a 63-19 vote.

Benchamach said he was aware of the weight of responsibility after the House renewed confidence in him, especially with Morocco dealing with growing challenges and reforms that should no longer be postponed.

The National Rally of Independence (RNI), the Constitutional Union (UC), the Popular Movement (MP) and the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP), which are part of the majority government, voted for Benchamach.

The PJD, Party of Progress and Socialism, RNI, MP, UC and USFP form the current government.

The vote for speaker again showed the friction in the ruling coalition despite Moroccan Prime Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani’s claim that his government “is united, moves, thinks and acts in a collective way to find solutions to the citizens’ problems.”

Political analyst Hafid Ezzahri said the election was proof that the ruling coalition parties were not on the same wavelength.

“The failure to present a candidate agreed on by the coalition parties and the PJD’s decision to nominate a candidate from its own party without their approval only one day before the election prove the deep disagreements between the ruling party and its allies,” said Ezzahri.

Othmani was quoted by the Assabah newspaper as saying recent altercations between members of his party and the RNI will not bring down the government. He described them as a “marital dispute.”

PJD Secretary-General Abdelali Hamidine in August called on the RNI to leave the government, prompting the party to hit back with a virulent statement from RNI member Rachid Talbi Alami.

Alami, who is minister of Youth and Sport, said the victory of the RNI candidate in the M’Diq by-election was a political message that “citizens trust only the RNI.” He accused the PJD of having undertaken since 2010 “a political project aimed at harming people.”

PJD Deputy Secretary-General Slimane El Omrani answered with a long statement on his Facebook page, expressing PJD’s indignation at the attack on his party, its principles and foundations.

“These are serious, harmful and unacceptable positions [which] blatantly violate the majority charter of which your party is signatory,” wrote Omrani. “Is it a personal opinion or that of the party? It must be clear.”

“Would you have forgotten that your party had barely survived 37 seats but had somehow controlled the negotiations of the formation of the government that was assigned to Abdelilah Benkirane?” Omrani asked.

The PJD won the October 2017 election but was unable to form a coalition government.

Negotiations between the PJD and the RNI on forming a government have been stalled for months since talks between Benkirane, a former prime minister from the PJD, and RNI’s Aziz Akhannouch reached an impasse.

Moroccan King Mohammed VI replaced Benkirane with Othmani, who pulled together a coalition government.

Political analyst Mohammed El Omrani told news website Hespress that he ruled out there would be a coalition government that would bring the PJD and the RNI together.

Ezzahri said the coalition government could collapse at any time, due to differences between its members. If the government falls, there would be new elections.

“The coalition parties are more concerned about their internal affairs than the files that are waiting to be dealt with, especially after the king’s speeches that urged the government to do more to address the country’s social and economic problems,” said Ezzahri.