PJD’s win in Morocco elections seen as ‘no surprise’
Casablanca - It was expected that the ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) would emerge with the most seats in Morocco’s legislative elections — and it did — but several traditional parties in the country had major setbacks and a group seen as close to the monarchy showed a strong rise.
PJD came out ahead in its fierce political battle with the liberal Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM), which is considered close to the palace, but the fight polarised the North African country.
The PJD won 125 out of the 395 seats for the Moroccan House of Representatives in voting October 7th, beating the PAM, which secured 102 seats. Morocco’s Istiqlal Party (PI), which dates to 1937 and fought for the country’s independence, was third with 45 seats.
The PJD gained 18 more seats than it won in the 2011 election and PAM more than doubled its total.
The elections were a major setback for traditional parties such as the PI, the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP) and the Party of Progress and Socialism (PPS). The PI lost 15 seats, the USFP 19 and the PPS four.
The Federation of the Democratic Left (FDG), which was presented as a “third way”, won just two seats despite the growing popularity of its leader Nabila Mounib and backing from Moroccan intellectuals and artists.
Salaheddine Mezouar, secretary-general of the National Rally of Independents (RNI), which won 37 seats, submitted his resignation to the party’s politburo a day after the announcement of the election results, considering himself as “responsible” for the results, which saw his party’s representation fall by 15 seats.
Analysts said the electoral success of PJD and PAM was no surprise.
“The PJD’s dominance of the Moroccan political scene in recent years is due to the lack of strong competitors who meet the criteria of their party on the ground in order to win the voters’ confidence,” said political analyst Mohammed Afry.
“The two axes of politics and the oldest parties in Morocco — the PI and USFP — lost their track by losing confidence placed in them by the electorate. Both parties are suffering from internal problems.”
“The PI with its history and contributions to many achievements in post-independent Morocco and its symbolic value in the political scene suffers from a lack of consensus among independents around their Secretary-General Hamid Chabat and his popular speeches. The USFP suffers from the same problem as its internal conflicts explain calls for dissent from time to time.”
In July 2013, Chabat caused a political crisis that almost led to early parliamentary elections after five ministers of his party resigned from the PJD-led government, citing disagreements with the ruling Islamist party. His decision cost the party in September 2015 municipal and regional elections.
“While the traditional parties continued betting on their past and symbolism in the struggle and resistance against colonialism as their electoral capital more than their dependence on setting out clear programmes that resonate with the Moroccan voters, PJD took advantage of this negative bet and got closer to voters in their daily lives through associations that deal with charity work in remote and marginalised areas as well as linking religious discourse with political action,” Afry said.
The government led by Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane carried out many reforms. It overhauled the compensation fund that resulted in the liberalisation of oil prices and passed controversial reform of the retirement system.
The government was also credited with lowering foreign debt, which reached the highest levels since 1998, by implementing austerity measures that encountered strong opposition from trade unions and community groups.
However, the Islamist party failed to tackle rising unemployment and fulfil its promises in 2011 to fight corruption.
Nabil Adel, director of the Research Institute of Geopolitics and Geo-economics at ESCA School of Management in Casablanca, said PJD owed its success in the elections to reforms it carried out.
“Benkirane managed to widen his electoral base thanks to decisions made by his government, such as the increase of the minimum wage and scholarships for students, pensions for widows and price reduction of many medicines,” said Adel.
Afry echoed Adel’s remark.
“The reform that PJD used as a slogan in its campaign was a key factor in attracting voters. The number of those who voted for PJD in 2011 rose by more than 700,000 voters in the October 7th voting because of the party’s large workshop that included many sectors rather than its Islamic reference,” said Afry.
Adel said PJD ministers showed “they have clean hands in politics, something that Moroccans value a lot besides the fact that Benkirane speaks a language that Moroccans understand”.
The PAM, which was founded in 2008 by Fouad el-Himma, an adviser to King Mohammed VI, saw its number of parliamentary seats increase from 47 to 102.
The fast-rising party refused to forge an alliance with the PJD led by Benkirane, who was reappointed by the king to form a new cabinet.
“Our position is clear and categorical for two reasons: First, there is a huge difference between the party that topped the elections and us in terms of managing public affairs in our country such as the retirement system and the compensation fund,” Aziz Benazzouz said in a television interview.
“Second, if we want to enter into talks with the PJD, the latter has to review its reference and project… It has to publicly announce its ties with the Unity and Reform Movement, which is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood movement,” he added.
Adel said Morocco “needs a government that includes the traditional parties in order to instil the democratic practice while widening the power of the executive and reinforcing the power of the parliament in enacting legislation and approving reforms”.