Islamist party set to take most seats in Morocco

November 27, 2011
By Borzou Daragahi in Cairo
A moderate Islamic opposition party was poised to emerge as the winner of Friday’s parliamentary elections in Morocco, the latest in a series of political victories for Islamists in the Arab world.
The Justice and Development Party won 82 of the country’s 395 seats in parliament and appeared on track to have at least 106 deputies, making it the largest bloc in parliament, according to preliminary election results released over the weekend. High quality global journalism requires investment. Please share this article with others using the link below, do not cut & paste the article.
Only 305 seats are contested, with the rest distributed proportionally.
Under the terms of a constitutional reform package enacted earlier this year, the party can now try to form a new cabinet but is likely to need to take on coalition partners and must propose a prime minister who meets the approval of King Mohammad VI, the country’s ultimate authority.
The party, known by the French acronym PJD, has historically been close to the monarchy. Its leader quickly sought to reassure the west it would not try to alter the country’s stance though it would pursue “more balanced” relations with the European Union and United States.
“We are aware that Morocco is a traditional ally of the EU and the USA and we have not the intention to propose something different,” Abdelilah Benkirane, PJD secretary-general, told reporters, according to the official Maghreb Arab Presse news agency.
“What we are advocating for today is to forge together and in a democratic fashion more balanced links. Other than that, we don’t see any reason why the PJD could create any problem in Morocco’s relations with the Mediterranean countries”.
Observers are closely watching the progress of Morocco, a rare example of an Arab state which has opted for dramatic reforms amid the wave of regional political turmoil sparked by the self-immolation of a Tunisian fruit vendor nearly a year ago.
The so-called Arab Spring revolutions spawned Morocco’s February 20 protest movement, which called for another in a series of rallies on Sunday. The movement called for boycotts of a referendum on constitutional changes and the elections held on Friday. The loose coalition of activists alleges the political process is rigged to give a veneer of democracy while granting the monarchy ultimate authority.
“I think people want to see more democracy and they want to see separation of powers”, Zineb Belmkaddem, a supporter of the February 20 movement, said in a telephone interview. “PJD is a political party that existed within a political scene that was very corrupt. In the context of the Arab Spring we could do a lot better – a real parliamentary monarchy like they have in Europe”.
The interior ministry said voter turnout was 45 per cent, higher than in previous elections. A statement issued by the National Democratic Institute, a US organisation which monitored the elections, highlighted “the lack of voter enthusiasm, calls for an election day boycott, and the significant number of invalid and spoiled ballots” which may suggest public cynicism about the vote.
“From a technical point of view, it was a fair election, but democracy is about substance as much as form”, Bob Rae, leader of the Liberal Party of Canada and a leader of the team monitoring the vote, said in a press release. “Seeing the number of people who actively spoiled their ballots as well as those who did not participate, it is clear that the path to real change will take more effort and time”.
The court of Mohammad VI has launched a public relations campaign, promoting the line that Morocco has avoided the turbulence of the rest of the Arab world because of its reform-minded king.
“As is the case in all Western democracies, free and fair parliamentary and local and regional elections give the public venues to express their political opinions and affect both national and local issues”, said a press release issued by an website called the “Morocco News Agency,” which was launched this month. “Hence, the vast majority of Moroccans have no reason to take to the streets.”