Fate of Morocco's ruling Islamists at stake in parliamentary poll

AFP , Wednesday 8 Sep 2021

King Mohammed VI will name a prime minister from the party that leads the parliamentary poll to govern for the next five years

Morocco election
Aziz Akhannouch, the president of the national Rally of Independents (RNI), speaks during a campaign meeting in the Oudaya Kasbah in the capital of Rabat on September 2, 2021, ahead of Morocco's September 8 general elections. AFP

Moroccans head to the ballot box on Wednesday for parliamentary and local elections that will decide the fate of Islamists who have governed the kingdom since the Arab Spring uprisings.

Doors will open at polling stations at 8:00 am (0700 GMT) and close at 7:00 pm for the 18 million on the electoral roll, who will vote for 395 MPs and more than 31,000 local and regional officials.

King Mohammed VI will name a prime minister from the party that leads the parliamentary poll to govern for the next five years.

The palace remains the source of key decisions and strategic direction in the country of 36 million people.

Swept to power in the wake of the 2011 uprisings around the Middle East and North Africa, the Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) hopes to secure a third term leading a ruling coalition.

Compared with demands back then for an end to "corruption and despotism", this year's two-week election campaign has been mostly stable, with no large gatherings due to the coronavirus.

In the final days, however, PJD and its close rival the National Rally of Independents (RNI) have exchanged heftier blows.

 

'Suspicion'

Former prime minister and PJD leader Abdelilah Benkirane attacked the RNI boss, billionaire businessman and Agriculture Minister Aziz Akhannouch, in a fiery Facebook video on Sunday.

"The head of government must be a political personality with integrity who is above suspicion," he said.

Akhannouch retorted in an interview on Monday that the attacks were "an admission of failure" by his opponents, vowing not to respond.

Following the last elections in 2016, the RNI leader secured critical ministerial jobs for his party, including the economy and finance and industry portfolios.

Besides the PJD and RNI, the liberal Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM), formed by an influential royal adviser, and the centre-right Istiqlal Party are both seen as front-runners in local media.

The election campaign has been marked by PAM's allegations that RNI was buying votes -- denied by Akhannouch's party -- while PJD blasted excessive political spending without naming names.

 

'New model'

Changes to the voting system this year mean parties' shares of seats will be calculated based on registered voters, rather than those who actually cast their ballots, in an amendment seen as favouring smaller parties.

On the same vote share as in 2016, the new system could leave the PJD with around 80 seats, rather than the 125 it scored last time, making post-election coalition-building trickier.

The lack of clear confrontation during the campaign has frustrated some voters and expectations for turnout are low.

"We want representatives with a clear vision, not people who just want to manage things from day to day," said one voter on the streets of capital Rabat.

Whatever the result, all political parties are expected to adopt a charter for a "new model of development" with a "new generation of reforms and projects" in the coming years, the king announced recently.

All parties are expected to sign up, regardless of who wins the election.

The plan's major aims include reducing the country's wealth gap and doubling per-capita economic output by 2035.

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