Morocco's main parties fail to restore faith in politics

Morocco's main parties fail to restore faith in politics
Comment: Both major parties can be satisfied with the gains they made, but voter turnout was lower than expected, indicating Moroccans have lost trust in their politicians, writes Samir Bennis
5 min read
11 Oct, 2016
The low turnout reflects the indifference of Moroccan majority towards the parliament [AFP]

When analysing the results of Morocco's parliamentary elections, it is clear that two parties have emerged as major winners. From a political standpoint the PJD has come out on top.

Despite the fact that it is the incumbent leader of the coalition government and it was subjected to fierce criticism during the electoral campaign, it not only secured the first spot, but also increased its number of seats in parliament from 107 to 125, with a comfortable margin in comparison to other parties.

The second winner - in terms of relative gain - is the Party of Authenticity and Modernity (PAM). This opposition party succeeded in doubling the number of its seats from 47 in 2011 to 102 in 2016. In addition, it reinforced its status as Morocco's second political force and the PJD's strongest political rival.

We can look at the results from two different perspectives. The first sees the positive side of the elections, which took place under normal conditions and without any major incidents.

In addition, and unlike the 2011 elections, no political leaders have protested the results of the elections or called into question the electoral process.

Additionally, the fact that the PJD won the majority means that what some call the "deep state" is abiding by the will of the majority of Moroccans, and that it did not intervene in the final results of the polls.

Before the election, many feared that the "deep state" was bent on favoring the PAM and that the monarchy was not willing to spend five more years in cohabitation with the PJD. The facts on the ground show that these claims were unfounded, and uncertainty until the last moments around who would emerge victorious indicates that these elections were not marred by fraud.

The dark side of the elections

However, this positive picture should not obscure the more negative aspects of the election. Voter turnout did not exceed 43 percent of registered voters, meaning that Moroccan political parties have failed in their mission to mobilise the masses to fully participate in the political process, a goal that Morocco has striven toward since 2011.

Before Friday's elections, most parties were hoping that voter turnout would be higher than in 2011, when it reached 45 percent. The lower than expected turnout translates as both the failure of Morocco's political elites to convince the Moroccan people to partake in the democratic process, as well as the fact that Moroccans have lost trust in their politicians.

This turnout figure is not surprising, given the disinterest most Moroccans show toward politics. When I talk to fellow countrymen and try to learn about their views, I get the impression that they are by and large unconcerned with party politics, and that they don't take the promises of their politicians seriously.

Moroccans have grown tired of seeing the same faces leading the political show for decades

Most Moroccans will tell you that no matter who they vote for, it will have no impact on their daily life, nor will it improve their living conditions, create jobs, or improve the quality of education and the health system.

The fact that less than 45 percent of registered voters participated in the election clearly shows that Moroccans have grown tired of seeing the same faces leading the political show for several decades, and that the political debate during the electoral campaign was of poor quality.

In fact, while Moroccans may have hoped their political leaders would propose solid and realistic programs on how they intend to put the country on the right track towards building a resilient economy, improving its ailing education and health system, and providing job opportunities to the young, the political debate was instead restricted to a multi-round fight out that saw each party attempt to weaken the other through the exploitation of scandals.

The poor quality of political discourse conveyed the wrong message to the overwhelming majority of Moroccans convincing them that political leaders are solely concerned with attaining and maintaining power, with little or no regard for the pressing issues affecting people's daily lives.

The PJD emerges stronger than in 2011

On the other hand, the PJD's victory takes on a meaningful message and serves to confirm the results that the Islamist party achieved during last year's municipal and regional elections, when it also won the most votes.

That the PJD has secured most of the seats in several major cities, such as Casablanca, Fez, Marrakech, Tangier, and others, shows that the party is consolidating its status as the main reference for the middle class in Morocco's urban areas. It also shows that, the PJD has succeeded in building a stable base of dedicated supporters who believe in its political project.

Political debate was restricted to a multi-round fight out that saw each party attempt to weaken the other through the exploitation of scandals

For the PJD this is also a significant victory as it secures an elusive second term for the party that has already been leading the coalition government for the past five years.

This is the not first time that the incumbent party in Morocco has won the legislative elections. The same happened with the Socialist Union of Popular Forces in the 2002 elections after it had led the government from 1998 to 2002. However, the margin secured by the PJD on Friday is larger than the one secured by the USFP in 2002.

These results also mean that the PJD has not been affected by the controversial and hard decisions that the government has made since it came to office, such as the reform of the pension system, the reform of the compensation system, and the liberalisation of fuel prices.

Moroccan voters apparently still believe that PJD leaders are able to undertake the reforms that Morocco needs, in order to achieve progress, and work hand in hand with the king in order preserve the country's stability.

Samir Bennis is a political analyst. He received a PhD in international relations from the University of Provence in France and his research areas include relations between Morocco and Spain and between the Muslim world and the West, as well as the global politics of oil.

He has published more than 150 articles in Arabic, French, English and Spanish, and authored Les Relations Politiques, Economiques et Culturelles Entre le Maroc et l’Espagne: 1956-2005, which was published in French in 2008. He is the co-founder of Morocco World News and lives in New York. Follow him on Twitter: @SamirBennis

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.