Moroccan elections spring a surprise with long-time ruling Islamist party thrown out of power

Two of the country’s main liberal parties emerged as the biggest parties in the 395-member parliament in the provisional results announced on Thursday by the interior minister

September 10, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
Morocco elections
(Photo: Middle East Online)

Morocco’s ruling moderate Islamist Justice and Development (PJD) party, which spearheaded a coalition government in the country for the last 10 years, suffered a defeat in the parliamentary elections held on Wednesday, September 8. In the preliminary election results, the PJD saw a massive dip in its number of seats in the 395-seat parliament, falling to 12 from the 125 it had won in the last elections in 2016. PJD’s two main rivals, liberal parties National Rally of Independents (RNI) and Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM), secured big wins in these elections, winning 97 and 82 seats, respectively. The center-right Istiqlal (Independence) party won 78 seats. The preliminary results were announced by the interior ministry on the basis of 96% of the votes counted in all the parliamentary seats as of Thursday morning. 

The interior ministry in a statement on Thursday stated that the voting percentage increased to 50.35% compared to 43% in the 2016 parliamentary elections, but was marginally lower than the 53% in the 2015 local elections. There are around 18 million eligible voters in Morocco, nearly half of the total population of 37 million. 

These were the first elections to be held under the new voting system in which the allocation of seats was based on the number of votes cast as a percentage of registered voters. This is in contrast to the norm in the electoral systems of most democracies. In accordance with the new voting rules, this was the first time that both parliamentary and local elections were held on the same day. 

Many pro-democracy activists and smaller leftist political parties had opposed the elections and issued calls to boycott, calling them a “promotion of fake democracy” and the “continuation of the tyranny of absolute individual rule” at the hands of King Mohammed VI. Growing repression by the government against opponents and critics has resulted in stricter curbs placed on civil liberties and a steady decline in the human rights situation in the country. 

Read more: Moroccans vote amid calls for boycott of elections over repression and lack of democratic space

The elections threw up an unexpected result since many analysts and commentators were predicting the PJD’s return to power after winning the largest number of seats. However, news reports noted that the king still enjoys absolute power in the country when it comes to major decisions and policies of the government. He also gets to pick the prime minister from the party with the largest number of seats, as well as decide whether to approve the potential cabinet proposed by the prime minister. He has the final say in the most important cabinet appointments, such as defense, foreign affairs and interior. He also sets the economic and development agenda for the country, which the new government will have to comply with and implement.

During the election campaign, several political parties, especially those with close ties to the king, released manifestos which closely resemble the existing plans of the monarchy, especially in relation to subjects like education, health, unemployment and social welfare. 

Wednesday’s elections were the country’s third parliamentary elections since the introduction of the new constitution in 2011 in the aftermath of the ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings across Middle East and North Africa. Morocco was not immune to these changes and witnessed its own pro-democracy movement called the February 20 movement whose demands included issues like separation of powers, end to corruption, and a democratic style of governance. The constitution that was adopted in 2011 and announced by the king as a response to many of these demands barely fulfilled any of them. The majority of the power in the country still remains in the hands of the king with the elected government virtually powerless in comparison.

The electoral system and successive governments have been routinely rejected and dismissed by various opposition leftist and anti-establishment parties and pro-democracy movements. Democratic processes in the country have been described as “absurd” and a “pre-determined political map” in which political parties enter into a “competition for the service of the ruler.”