Last Friday, Moroccans headed to the polls to vote in the latest parliamentary elections since the constitution was reformed in July. The Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) made major gains with 107 out of 395 seats, but fell considerably short of winning an absolute majority. While the PJD has the right to form a new government, it will need to form a coalition. Prime Minister Abbas Al Fassi has reached out to the PJD, saying that his nationalist Istiqlal party is ready to work with the PJD in a coalition government.
While Morocco was not affected by the “Arab Spring” to the extent that other countries were, last summer King Mohamed VI took proactive measures to reform the constitution and defuse opposition protests. Such reforms included the appointment of the prime minister from the political party with the most seats in parliament and giving the prime minister new powers, including the ability to dissolve parliament and make appointments. However, the monarchy retained power over defense, security, and religious issues.
While the PJD emerged as the main opposition party almost a decade ago, the party’s long-term goals remain ambiguous. Some are concerned that the PJD will push for the institution of sharia law. However, it is unlikely that the party’s religious preferences will have dramatic effects. A coalition government will maintain a balance of influence and prevent controversial measures from being introduced. Furthermore, the king is known to have taken aggressive measures against Islamist extremism.
Much of the PJD’s success is owed not only to the “Arab Spring” but to the monarchy’s acceptance of Islamist political activity. In Egypt and Tunisia, Islamist parties were banned and their leaders forced into exile. However, in Morocco, King Mohamed instituted a dual-track approach, encouraging Islamists who oppose violence and support the monarchy to participate in politics, while cracking down on adherents to Salafist ideology. The PJD’s non-revolutionary objectives and acceptance of the monarchy have allowed it to work within the system.
However, opposition activists such as the February 20 movement are not satisfied with instituting change from within the system. Rather, they have called for more aggressive reform and a boycott, arguing that until the government is transformed into a constitutional monarchy, the king will maintain absolute power. Yet, with only 45 percent of the electorate participating, it is evident that many who had hoped for change have become complacent. Though PJD was the clear winner, the party will have to form a coalition with the pro-monarchy parties. With the PJD forced to compromise, activists feel the politicians will bargain away much of their platform.
Morocco is a unique case of a country affected by the “Arab Spring.” The country is not ruled by a dictator; the monarchy is generally accepted by the population; the Moroccan government maintains close ties with the U.S. and Europe; and the king has taken measures to address some of the shortcomings in government that have caused other countries to implode. Despite this, corruption, patronage, and other abuses of power continue, and the king’s past efforts to address these abuses have stagnated.