By Siham Ali and Hassan Benmehdi
Morocco’s Justice and Development Party (PJD) won more than a quarter of parliamentary seats and will now form the government.
The Islamist party secured 107 out of 395 seats in the November 25th national poll, followed by Istiqlal with 60 seats, the interior ministry announced on Sunday (November 27th). Despite calls for boycott, more than 45% of eligible voters cast their ballots, compared with 37% in 2007.
PJD Secretary-General Abdelilah Benkirane received a hero’s welcome at the Sunday press conference but was careful not to jump the gun, as the king has yet to confirm who will head the government.
The new constitution, adopted in the July 1st referendum, stipulates that the king is to name the leader of the victorious party as the head of the government, but does not state what their role will be.
If Benkirane is not picked to lead the government, the party’s national council will meet to discuss the issue, Vice-Secretary General Abdellah Baha said. Benkirane has already told the press that the appointment of someone else within the PJD will not be a problem for him.
Public reactions to Islamists’ overwhelming victory ranged from anger to angst to signs of hope. Some fear that an Islamist takeover would lead to the radicalisation of Moroccan society.
Hamid Chami, a bank clerk, is one of them. He feels that the rise of Islamists could be dangerous for Morocco, given what he described as the PJD’s worrying response to a number of issues such as gender equality and the organisation of festivals.
Benkirane sought to reassure sceptics, stressing that the PJD will not touch personal liberties, and will not dictate to Moroccans how to behave. The party’s chief concern is to improve the country socially and economically, he said.
“I know the challenges are huge, given that the new government will be faced with many social and economic challenges and problems, but we are going to work for change,” Benkirane said.
Others continued to reject outright the electoral process. An estimated two thousand protestors gathered in Casablanca to dismiss the electoral outcome. They brandished placards mocking the PJD and chanted, “PJD is the new governing elite”, “Election is a fabrication” and “People did not vote”.
“I don’t believe anything anymore,” Rachid, an unemployed father, said. “I see my financial situation getting worse year by year, with the high cost of living. This is what worries me the most.”
“The elections, the turnout, the so-called victory by the PJD, none of this has really done anything to meet our expectations,” Belhacen, a young car park security guard, said. “We want real change which affects us directly and affects everyday life. We want them to stop lying to us.”
Lahcen Daoudi, the PJD’s assistant general-secretary, tried to calm the tempers. “Restoring social justice and the fight against malpractice and corruption are some of the top priorities for our political programme,” he vowed.
The main challenge for the PJD is to restore public confidence in political life. Some supporters believe that the Islamist party is up to the task.
“The PJD’s programme is very convincing,” teacher Jamila Selhami said. “I hope it will be implemented to achieve social justice and stamp out all kinds of corruption. I believe the PJD is a serious party, capable of keeping Morocco’s development on the right track.”
For many, however, the vote for the Islamist opposition party had less to do with their religious credentials but signalled a public desire for change.
“I don’t’ agree with all of their positions. But Morocco needs a new breath,” student Hisham S., 21, said. “The PJD, which was a fervent opposition party, is now urged to make their greatest effort to satisfy Moroccans.”
Mr Brahimi said that the party’s success was a result of the government’s loss of popularity, as well as changes taking place in the Arab world.