Morocco local elections: a test for the Islamist ruling party

On 4th September 2015, the people of Morocco were called to the ballot boxes for local and regional elections, the first since the 2011 elections which gave birth to a coalition government lead by an Islamist Party, the PJD.

These elections have been particularly significant for several reasons: they have been seen as a test for the ruling party; they have been considered the best way to see if the outcome of February 2011 protests have been stabilised; more than 1 million new voters registered on Morocco’s electoral lists, 46% of whom were women; a total of about one hundred and forty thousand candidates competed for almost thirty two thousand seats; these are the first elections in which all political actors agreed on the new regionalisation project, which guarantees more powers to the twelve regional elected councils; and finally, because the last round of local and regional voting goes back  six years.

Firstly, it is necessary to summarize the political forces which took part at the elections and present the most significant poll results; only after that will it be possible draw some conclusions.

The polls were contested by seven major political groups (there were at least thirty parties): the PJD (Parti de la Justice et du Développement, Justice and Development Party, the Islamist ruling party);the PAM (Parti Authenticité et Modernité, a party founded in 2008 to oppose the Islamic party and backed by the Monarchy); the Independence Party (Parti de l’Istiqlal, a conservative and monarchist party); the RNI (the National Rally of Independents, the political landmark for business men linked to the King); the Socialist Union’ the Popular Movement; and the Party of Progress and Socialism.

The election results showed the PJD gained 5021 local seats and 174 regional assembly seats, the PAM gained 6655 local seats and 132 regional seats, the Independence Party gained 5106 local seats and 119 regional seats. As a result, the Justice and Development Party did not just win the majority of regional seats, but also won the majority in very important cities such as Rabat (the capital), Casablanca (the economic capital), Marrakech, Tanger, Fes, Meknès, Agadiris. However, in the municipal elections, the PJD came third, obtaining the 15.9% of the votes, after the Independence Party (16.2%) and the PAM, which had 21.1% of the votes. On the basis of 14th September’s poll results, elections of regional council presidents saw the PAM win five regional presidencies, while the PJD, the RNI and the Istiqlal Party won two each. That implies, because of the improved powers guaranteed at the regions, that  PJD mayors will be forced to strictly cooperate with PAM regional presidents.

Beyond any doubt, the PJD is the winner of this electoral round. In the wake of this poll victory Abdelali Hamieddine, a senior official of the Islamist Party, said “These results confirm the confidence of the Moroccan people in the work of the government”. There are a number of reasons which explain this victory: firstly the Islamist Party pragmatism, a distinguishing element of its political agenda and political discourse (totally free from religious references); the moderate public image of its leader and current PM Abdelillah Benkirane; and, last but not least, the innate weakness of the Left, the clear loser of this election.

This last point is worth examining in depth. The Left (meaning all leftist parties) does not have a clear, unique idea of the relationship it has, or it would like to have, with the monarchy and the established power. For instance, there is on the one hand the Socialist Union, which decided to boycott the 2011 elections because of the lacking of significant changes in the political system after the 20th February Movement protests, but  it did take part in this election even though the political framework stayed basically the same. On the other hand, there is the Democratic Way Party (a radical leftist party), which decided not to took part at the elections and campaigned for a general boycott (four of its members were arrested in Rabat on 25th August). A similar attitude leads to different and inconsistent political choices which determine internal divisions between the single parties, worrisome unable to stand together under the same umbrella, and, of course, all of this is perceived by the electorate and reflects poorly at the moment of vote.

The turnout at the polls was 53.67%, higher than the one registered in the previous election; the data acquires even more significance when remembering the astonishing number of new voters reported earlier. This high level of participation certainly represents a return of voters’ confidence in politics, and this is always a good sign.

It is legitimate assume that these elections could represent a turning point in the local politics of Morocco given that the PJD is satisfactorily represented. However, as noted above, because of the results in the regional presidencies, it is quite likely the formation of improbable coalitions in local councils will be seen.

Eventually, two points can be made regarding this election. Firstly, the PJD presence in local councils, meaning the chance to affect citizens’ everyday life, could be a key advantage for the Islamist Party in the upcoming 2016 general elections. Secondly, this could be the end of a political era where traditional parties, in accordance with the King, used to completely dominate every aspect of public life in Morocco. That would be the definitive proof that this Country, after the 2011 turmoil characterizing all MENA region, is undertaking, in a very promising way, a serious path towards a stable and functioning democracy.

Author Biography

Gianluca Aquino holds a law degree from the University of Naples Federico II and is currently doing a Master’s Degree in Economy and the Institutions of Islamic Countries (MISLAM) at LUISS University in Rome. He is particularly interested in geopolitics and analysing national public policies, foreign policy towards regional and global actors and geopolitical dynamics. He believes that the Middle East and the southern bank of Mediterranean Sea represent crucial elements in the global theatre and his post-graduate studies focus on Islamic countries with an aim to contribute to national or supranational institution, a think tank or an NGO as a political analyst.

Cover image ‘Election Wall‘ by Jonathan Morgan

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