Morocco: When Local Democracy Triumphs – OpEd


On September 4, Moroccans went to the polls to vote in local elections, seen as a serious test of the popularity of the coalition government led by Abdelilah Benkirane, head of the Justice and Development Party (PJD), a year ahead of a general election.

53.6% went to the polls to elect new municipal councils, as a fore-runner to legislative elections in a year’s time.

These elections are expected to provide some indication as to the likely makeup of a future government, for, in Morocco, the winning party in the poll provides the premier – who then recommends his preferred cabinet to the king.

The results of the double polls showed that Morocco’s ruling Islamist party PJD won regional councils votes, but loses municipal election to its rival “Authenticity and Modernity Party” (PAM).

The Justice and Development Party (PJD) of Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane won 25.6 percent of 678 seats in regional councils, followed by PAM (19.4) and conservative Independence party (Istiqlal) (17.5pc).

For the first time in its history, PJD, which came to power in 2011 in the height of the Arab spring with anti-corruption agenda, won control of Morocco’s major cities including the capital Rabat, Casablanca, Tangier, Fez, Marrakesh and Agadir.

However, in municipal polls, PAM, a liberal opposition party, came first winning 21.1 pc of the overall seats followed by Istiqlal party (16.2 pc) and PJD (15.9 pc).
The European Union qualified these elections as a first step for the implementation of advanced regionalization that devolves larger competences and autonomy to regions and communes. “These elections, the first local polls since the adoption of the constitution in 2011, will help start to implement the advanced regionalization project”, said the EU spokeswoman for foreign affairs, Catherine Ray.

Answering a question from MAP, the spokeswoman added it is a major stage for Morocco, since the councils of regions will be for the first time elected through direct universal suffrage, noting that the EU’s high-representative for foreign policy, Federica Mogherini, “has decided to dispatch a team of electoral experts in response to an invitation by Moroccan authorities”.

She also insisted that Morocco is an important partner of the European Union at the regional and international levels for the Maghreb’s stability, security, prosperity, neighborliness and regional integration.

Both State Department and EU officials have recognized the importance of these elections and have been enthusiastic about developments in Morocco which they see as momentum for a genuine democracy.

What the elections augur for the future may be unclear. What is crystal clear is that Morocco has set its sights on being a model for regional reform.

Now, arguably for the first time in decades, there is an alternative to ideological repression in the Arab community. Morocco is not yet an exemplar of Jeffersonian liberalism, but it is on a path paved with democratic principles. These municipal and regional elections, held in Morocco Sept.04, enhanced further local democracy and advanced regionalisation projects launched by King Mohammed VI.

A constitution and an election, while essential building blocks for democracy, are not in themselves dispositive. What counts is where the leaders want to take this North African nation. Will it move inexorably to democracy? Or will it backslide with pressure from other Arab states?

There remain many unanswered questions, but on one matter there is not an open question: The reforms initiated by King Mohammed should be greeted with gratitude and respect. At long last there is another model for the Arab future, one that Americans and Europeans should embrace wholeheartedly. It is true that there are still challenges ahead of the democracy path n Morocco but the most important is that Moroccans (civil society, political parties and most important youth) have made their irreversible choice to continue their peaceful struggle towards full democracy. Democracy, therefore in this part of the Arab region, is no more a myth. It is a reality.

Said Temsamani

Said Temsamani is a Moroccan political observer and consultant, who follows events in his country and across North Africa. He is a member of Washington Press Club.

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