Morocco: A Test for the King's Reforms
Morocco: A Test for the King's Reforms
An insight into the Moroccan parliamentary elections, which are viewed as a test for the King's new reforms since the Arab uprisings began.
Whilst Egypt's elections have been marred by a violent crackdown against protestors calling for an end to military rule, Morocco is preparing to hold its first parliamentary elections since protests developed and spread across the Arab world. Meanwhile, protestors have called for a nationwide boycott of the elections, which are viewed by some as not being truly democratic. Last weekend saw approximately 20,000 protestors take to the streets of Rabat, Casablanca and Tangier.
As a result of the Arab Uprisings which spread to Morocco earlier this year, King Mohammed enlisted a commission to draft reforms to the existing constitution, which was then passed through a referendum in July. Rather than crush the protests by force like other Arab leaders, the Moroccan ruler instead chose to listen to some of the protestors’ demands. Various changes were made to the constitution, including the handover of some rights from the King to the prime minster. The reforms also mean that the King must now name a prime minister from the largest party in parliament, whilst he can no longer make the final decision regarding amnesty of prisoners, a role which has been transferred to the parliament.
The referendum was met with 98 percent approval from the voters who participated. However, the figure has been questioned by a significant amount of Moroccans. The steps taken by the King have been viewed by observers as an attempt to avert pressure for change which has swept the Middle East and North Africa since December 2010. As an act of reform, he also brought the election date forward as it was originally scheduled for September 2012.
February 20th Movement
Whilst the Moroccan people are unlikely to ever call for the end of the Arab world's longest serving dynasty - owing to the King's general popularity and status as the "Emir el-Mu'mineen" (commander of the faithful) due to his family's claim of lineage to the Prophet Muhammad - the monarch still faces widespread criticism.
Due to the King retaining nearly absolute political power and full control of defence and national security issues, and of religion, there is a widespread belief across Morocco that the reforms were severely insufficient. The February 20th Movement, which was inspired by the formation of pro-democratic political groups in Tunisia and Egypt, led a boycott of the referendum, which was argued to be devised in an undemocratic manner.
The protests organised by the pro-democracy movement earlier this year led for King Mohammed to set up a commission to draft a new constitution. However, despite the reforms, the movement argues that the involvement of corrupt politicians in the reform process delegitimizes the changes and does not reflect the will of the people. Instead of changes in the country's cabinet, such as in Jordan to help appease protestors' demands, the same politicians remained in place which effectively meant the same political interests were enacted. Rather than meeting protestors’ demands that the King reduces his powers over Moroccan society and politics and the implementation of a true constitutional monarchy, the reforms which were commissioned by his close aides still enable him to take a front seat role. Currently, the reforms passed in July stand only as symbolic changes.
For these reasons, the February 20th Movement rightly argues that the drafting of the constitution was conducted in an undemocratic manner, as the demands of the people were not met. Zineb El Rhazoui, a journalist and human rights activist who is aligned with February 20th, said: "[The new constitution] is not acceptable, it was cooked up in the hallways of the palace. It’s all cosmetic." The pro-democracy movement asserts that the elections on November 25 are useless since the real power still lies with the King and his court. Ouidad Melhaf, a member of the February 20th Movement, said: “I will not go and vote because nothing changes in this country."
The group stresses that the political system in Morocco is corrupt, whilst votes in the past have effectively been bought. The past parliamentary elections have usually seen low turnouts, and despite the regime's attempts to encourage the population to participate in Friday's vote, the amount of registered voters has fallen by over one million in comparison to the 2007 elections.
Whilst the February 20th Movement calls for a reduction of King Mohammed's role, it also demands an end to the privilege the political elite receive and an end to corruption. The group also calls for the introduction of fair and transparent elections. They stipulate that the elite share political power with the people, and distribute wealth amongst the rest of the population, along with an increased amount of political liberties to voice concerns and opposition. Currently, political power and involvement is concentrated in the hands of the elite, something which the movement wishes to change. Indeed, there is widespread political disengagement amongst many Moroccans largely due to the failures of political parties to uphold campaign promises and corrupt ministers.
The King's Popularity
However, despite calls for the King's powers to be reduced in government, it is worthwhile to mention that the majority of the Moroccan public and even some members of the February 20th Movement do not actually blame him for the shortcomings of the country's political elite. King Mohammed's general popularity amongst the masses is largely due to his portrayal as the "monarch of the people", and the distancing of himself from his father's heavy-handed tactics. Instead, he has enacted changes across the country in the form of women's rights, infrastructure and promised reform, whilst he has also been classed as "The King of the Poor," due to his commitment to fight poverty. Unlike other leaders in the Arab world, the King is regarded by most of his people as a forward-thinking reformer who has attempted to modernise the country since the start of his reign. King Mohammed announced earlier in the year that he "would make Morocco a state that will distinguish itself by its democratic course." Of course, actions speak louder than words and the Moroccan ruler will need to act upon his claims.
Supporters of the King's few reforms argue that slow change in the country is the best way to achieve a prolonged and sustainable future. Observers have said the changes which King Mohammed has enacted may act as a base for other Arab nations to follow suit. Mokhtar El Ghambou, of the Rabat International University, said: “It’s a peaceful revolution, and the major difference with other countries in the region is that protesters never called for the fall of the regime. There was no bloodshed. I think it shows there are two options; the first one is radical change, the second is change with continuity.”
Significantly, large portions of Moroccans do not see any alternative to a monarchy, when faced with the substitute of a corrupt political elite acting out of their own undemocratic interests.
Meanwhile, whilst the Al-Nahda Islamic political party achieved a majority at the elections for a constituent assembly in Tunisia last month, the moderate Islamist, Justice and Development Party (PJD) is expected gain a majority in the Moroccan elections on Friday. However, should the group emerge victorious, it will undoubtedly be required to form a coalition with other secular parties.
As noted by Samia Errazzouki, the PJD has amassed support due to their clear system of selecting political candidates, unlike other Moroccan parties, which choose candidates based upon their status, influence, and wealth.
However, regardless of who wins a majority at the parliamentary votes, the elections on Friday will indeed be a test for King Mohammed's reforms. Undoubtedly, a true democratic transition takes a significant amount of years to achieve, as will be the case in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt. Therefore, regardless of the Prime Minister the Moroccan ruler appoints after the results are revealed, the focus will be on how and if the King and his new leader of parliament truly wish to promote democratic development in the future Morocco, by continuing in the manner of slow reforms.
At present, it remains to be seen how the changes will be enacted and if they can help appease protestor demands of a true constitutional monarchy and democratic change in the short term.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.