Islamists see big losses in Moroccan parliamentary elections

Morocco’s moderate Islamist party suffered heavy losses in Wednesday’s parliamentary elections, a stinging setback in one of the last co...


Morocco’s moderate Islamist party suffered heavy losses in Wednesday’s parliamentary elections, a stinging setback in one of the last countries where Islamists came to power after the Arab Spring protests.

Moroccans voted in legislative, municipal and regional elections, the first of their kind in the country since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite turnout figures showing that nearly half of Moroccans did not vote, the results are clear: the Justice and Development Party, moderate Islamists known as the PJD, who have held power since 2011, suffered heavy losses both at the top and bottom of the ballot – perhaps enough to lose control of Parliament.

With more than half of the votes counted, the winners included the National Rally of Independents and the conservative Istiqlal party, both seen as closely linked to the monarchy.

However, a changing of the guard is unlikely to herald major political changes in a country where the royal palace has long been in charge. While Morocco is officially a constitutional monarchy, its parliament does not have the power to override the will of Mohammed VI, said Saloua Zerhouni, professor of political science in the capital, Rabat.

“The monarchy will continue to control political parties, undermine the powers of government and parliament and position itself as the only effective political institution,” Ms. Zerhouni said.

But the result showed one thing: the shrinking space Islamists now find for themselves in the Middle East and North Africa.

After the pro-democracy protests of the Arab Spring in 2011, many Islamist parties were allowed to stand for election, in some cases for the first time. They won parliamentary seats in some countries and seized power in others, notably in Morocco, where the reshuffles of Mohammed VI allowed the PJD to form a government coalition.

But the tide has finally turned against the Islamists. In Egypt in 2013, a coup toppled the Muslim Brotherhood, leading to their current dictatorship. This year, President Kais Saied Tunisia suspended parliament, which was controlled by moderate Islamists, in what many countries have called a coup.

In Morocco, moderate Islamists have made little progress on their own agendas, with key ministries like Foreign Affairs and Industry being controlled by other parties. When the King of Morocco decided to strike a deal last year with Israel to normalize relations, the Islamists could do nothing to stop an initiative they fiercely opposed.

“Most Moroccans across the country, at all levels of education, have a pretty good dose of political skepticism” and saw that the Islamists had little real power, said Vish Sakthivel, postdoctoral associate in studies on the subject. Middle East at Yale University.

And as the pandemic swept through Morocco, the royal palace was seen as the main driver of relief programs.

“Most of the decisions aimed at mitigating the social and economic effects of the pandemic were associated with the central power, the monarchy,” Ms. Zerhouni said. “While political parties and Parliament were presented as inactive and awaiting directives from the king.”

Mistrust has already been reflected in the low number of ballots, including in the last three elections, which recorded an average turnout of just 42%. And this time around, pandemic restrictions have forced most online campaigns, alienating many voters without internet access.

In March, Morocco revised its electoral laws, making it more difficult for any party to have a big lead in terms of seats. The ruling party will now have to form a coalition government bringing together several parties with different ideologies.

For many, these measures diluted the power of parties to rule and strengthened the king’s hand – and led some not to vote at all on Wednesday.

“The margin of expression available to citizens to express their grievances has been so reduced that the only way today to express unhappy discontent is to abstain from voting because the regime is attentive to the turnout rate,” he said. said Amine Zary, 51, who works in the tourism industry in Casablanca and did not vote.

In the streets of Morocco, many pointed out that the elections had changed little over the past decade.

Self-immolation protest cases continue to make headlines, reminder of one who sparked first Arab Spring unrest after fruit vendor set himself on fire in 2010 in Tunisia. Beatings by the police remain frequent. A Moroccan protest movement in 2017 met repression. And the government has targeted journalists who spoke out against oppression.

“I literally have a lump in my stomach because I have a feeling of déjà vu,” said Mouna Afassi, 29, an entrepreneur from Rabat who voted on Wednesday. “I recognize this feeling of hope all too well. For five years, they allow us to find the strength to believe in them before receiving another slap in the face.

She added: “I would like to stop thinking about leaving Morocco to give my daughter the life I dream of for her.”

The challenges were clear on a recent Saturday when, despite campaign restrictions imposed due to the pandemic, volunteers surveyed a residential area in Rabat. In a small office, members of the Democratic Leftist Federation, a coalition of different parties, gathered to support their exit efforts.

“You have to show the citizens that they are like you,” Nidal Oukacha, 27, a campaign manager, told one of the volunteers. “We have to tell people that Morocco can still change. “

But as the team cycled through the district, getting the message across was easier said than done. A lot of people weren’t home, and a lot of them had already made up their minds. A few potential voters listened to the canvassers, but it was not clear if they would vote in the end.

Leila Idrissi, 59, physiotherapist and politician with the Nationalist Independence Party, said Moroccans should not give up voting even if they are frustrated by political stagnation.

“A lot of promises have not been kept, especially over the past eight years,” she said. “I tell young people that if they don’t vote, they let people who are not competent or people with bad intentions decide for them. They must be masters of their future. “

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Newsrust - US Top News: Islamists see big losses in Moroccan parliamentary elections
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