PJD’s win in Morocco elections seen as ‘no surprise’

Sunday 16/10/2016
A Moroccan woman voter casts her ballot October 7th during the parliamentary elections at a polling station in Rabat.

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”.