By Lisa Vives
A billionaire appointed by Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, will lead a new government after long-ruling Islamists were defeated in parliamentary elections.
Businessman Aziz Akhannouch of the National Rally of Moroccan Independents (RNI), one of the country’s richest men with a fortune estimated at $2 billion, called his victory a win for democracy.
The power, however, still rests with the King who picks the prime minister from the party that won the most seats in parliament who will then form a cabinet and submit it for the King’s approval.
The election campaign was short and lackluster, with no big gatherings due to the coronavirus The Islamists alleged “serious irregularities,” including “obscene cash handouts” near polling stations and “confusion” on some electoral rolls, with some voters finding they were not listed.
Akhannouch, in a speech after the election results were declared, said he would “implement his majesty’s vision.”
The Palace has the last say on appointments concerning key ministries including the interior, foreign affairs and defense.
Akhannouch is the majority owner of Akwa Group, a multibillion-dollar conglomerate with interests in petroleum, gas and chemicals through publicly-traded Afriquia Gaz and Maghreb Oxygene. Akwa Group is a partner with Chevron, the company accused of polluting waterways with oil spills in the Niger Delta of Nigeria.
After his win this month, Akhannouch pledged to improve conditions for citizens of Morocco, where entrenched social inequalities have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
It is hoped that new leadership will also settle a controversy over a desert region colonized by Spain in the 19th century and annexed by Morocco in 1975. The pro-independence Polisario Front, representing the local Sahrawi population, has fought Moroccan forces for years for control of the territory.
At a recent press conference in Madrid with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, UN Secretary-General António Guterres expressed disappointment that dialogue on the Western Sahara has stalled, there having been no UN special envoy agreed upon by the parties.
“The difficulty,” said Guterres, “is that we already put forward 13 names for the post of UN special envoy and until now we haven’t got the parties’ agreement, which is very important … because the envoy has to work with them to launch the political dialogue.”
Shortly before his administration ended, president Donald Trump weighed in on the dispute, backing Moroccan rule over the contested region in exchange for Morocco improving relations with Israel.
A Polisario spokesperson commented: “The Polisario and Sahrawi government condemn in the strongest terms the fact that outgoing president Donald Trump attributes to Morocco something which does not belong to the country…Trump’s decision changes nothing in legal terms over the question of Sahrawi because the international community does not recognize Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara.”