Analysis. The Islamist PJD party won 125 of 395 seats, but the minor parties are still fractured and Sahrawi rights are still ignored.

After Morocco vote, political pluralism still struggles to find voice

They came to power in 2011 with the support of King Mohammad VI, under pressure from popular uprisings and wars in North Africa that had wiped out the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. The Islamists of the Justice and Development Party (PJD) have reconfirmed their relative strong majority in the complex Moroccan political scene. In the legislative elections on Friday, the PJD party of Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane won 125 of 395 seats in the House of Representatives, 18 more seats than in the last vote.

It’s a step forward, but the secular Authenticity and Modernity Party (WFP), formed in 2008 by Ilyas El Omari, an adviser to the king, also went up from 47 to 102 seats. The result wasn’t persuasive to the PJD, which complained of fraud, but the National Council for Human Rights ruled the elections mostly free and fair. In the background of the clash between Islamists and secularists, the situation in Western Sahara and the denial of the rights of the Sahrawi people was not discussed for most of the campaign.

The electoral system in Morocco dispelled the consensus among the 27 parties so that no political force is able to obtain an overwhelming majority. Within this framework, King Mohammad VI retains key powers with the new democratic “constitution” approved five years ago.

The increased polarization that emerged from Friday’s vote therefore should not be misleading. Most probably, Benkirane will be appointed again as prime minister, but he will have to form a broad coalition to govern. For its part, the PAM party is not able to set up an alternative executive power to that of the Islamists because all the other political forces, beginning with the nationalist party Istiqlal, have lost seats compared to past elections.

The Socialist Union of Popular Forces has gone backwards, it collapsed from 39 to 20 seats. The Salafis did not get any relevant results. They returned to the political scene, including the famous Abdelwahab Rafiki, also known as Abou Hafs, the preacher sentenced to 30 years in prison for approving the attacks that killed 45 dead in Casablanca in 2003. Rafiki, who was candidate for Istiqlal in Fez, was pardoned in 2012.

The mobilization of the PJD in urban centers, its strongholds, ensured the narrow victory, despite the weak economic policy of the Benkirane government in the past five years, the failure to solve the drought that is starving the countryside (hence the support of farmers to the PAM party) and the dissatisfaction of young people, the most affected by unemployment and the most sensitive to radical Islamism.

It seems the scandals that devastated the PJD had no influence on the voters, such as the one that revealed the extramarital history between two famous preachers. In the end, the most important fact of the vote was absenteeism: Only 43 per cent of eligible voters attended the polls.

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