No change in Morocco, despite “democratic” polls

Developing Just Leadership

M.S. Ahmed

Ramadan 19, 1428 2007-10-01

Occupied Arab World

by M.S. Ahmed (Occupied Arab World, Crescent International Vol. 36, No. 8, Ramadan, 1428)

King Mohammed VI, who succeeded his father in 1999, has adopted a multi-party political system that ensures that no one party can secure a majority clear majority of seats in parliament: the result is always a government consisting of a coalition of rival parties. This coalition is much easier to control, and it is in charge of a parliament with insignificant powers. Under the current rules, the king also has the right to appoint the prime minister and four ministers with powerful portfolios, without any reference to the weight of their parties in parliament. He certainly ignored the results of the election in 2002 and named a prime minister who belonged to none of the winning parties. He is also widely expected to do the same thing again soon, when he appoints the new prime minister and ignores the results of the recent polling.

Morocco’s legal and political systems do not stop at that but also ban Islamic parties that are not as ‘moderate’ as the Justice and Development party, which contested the election in 2002 and is contesting the current polls. However, even the legally registered secular parties and the moderate Islamic JDP are not allowed to stand for electoral districts as they choose, but are restricted to those selected by the palace. The king makes no effort to disguise the extent of his powers, and presents himself as an ‘executive king’ rather than a constitutional one. He even calls himself “Commander of the Faithful”.

The extent of those powers is not only very wide but also very visible to the Moroccan people. As the Economist, a British weekly, pointed out on September 8, the day after the recent election was held, he holds administrative, judicial and legislative powers. “Aside from heading the army and state, and being the commander of the faithful, he appoints and fires ministers, governors and judges, and issues or vetoes laws,” it said. “To insult him is a crime; to win [his] favour brings honour and, quite possibly, wealth.”

It is very strange for a party purporting to be a moderate organisation to be accepting a corrupt and autocraticmonarch like Mohammed VI as “commander of the faithful”. But the JDP, established ten years ago, accepts him as such without any visible embarrassment, which explains why it is not banned. The longer-established party Adl wal Ihsan (“justice and welfare”) is banned precisely because it refuses to accept the king as Commander of the Faithful. It also refuses to disguise its Islamic aspirations and programme, unlike the JDP, whose leaders openly and strongly asserted during their recent electoral campaign that they have no plans to pass any religious laws if, and when, they become the majority party in parliament.

In these circumstances it is not surprising that the majority of Moroccans perceive the political system as tightly controlled, nor that these political parties, including the JDP, that are allowed to contest elections are beholden to the king and will not try to change the system if they are elected. The explains the very low turn-out in both the 2002 and the September 7 elections. On September 7 only 37 percent of voters turned up to cast their votes – a record low. Despite the voters’ apathy, however, politicians vy enthusiastically for the king’s attention and turn up in large numbers to court the electorate’s votes. On September 7 no less than 37 parties competed for the 325 parliamentary seats. The Istiqlal Party (also known as Independence) won only 52 seats and is the winner; the JDP has won 47 seats, becoming the second-largest party in parliament.

This shows how fractured the political system is and how the king operates it to ensure that no single party secures a majority of parliamentary seats, and that the emerging government will be composed of a large number of competing parties. Such a divided coalition government will certainly be very easy to control – especially when the king appoints the prime minister and the top four minsters.

This is clearly not a democratic practice but a facade which the West, especially the US, uses to project its enthusiastic ally as democratic and hence worthy of support and aid. That this backing is very strong is shown by the fact that the US’s economic aid toMorocco has trebled during Bush’s presidency. The odd thing is that the US government, which is controlled by neo-cons and Christian die-hards, is particularly pleased with the king for enlisting the JDP’s backing and bringing it into the political system. But perhaps that is not so odd: the system indicates, or intended to indicate, that ‘democratic elections’ can be contested by ‘moderate Islamic groups’, and that the West is only opposed to ‘Islamic fundamentalists’ and ‘terrorists’.

It is not surprising that King Mohammed is praised in the West for providing the necessary evidence that “true democratic practices” and “moderate Islam” can live together in Muslim countries. An article in Time magazine on September 10 (two days after the latest poll) praised Morocco for laying the foundations for such co-existence. “By accommodating, and not attacking, political Islam, Morocco is laying the foundations of a modern Muslim democracy,” the writer of the article claimed, adding that the US can “do business” with the JDP and citing the fact that its leader, Saad Eddine el-Othman, toured the US in 2006 and met congressmen in a visit coodinated with the state department.

However, though all this may enhance the JDP’s standing in the West, it will do it no service in the eyes of the people of Morocco. How they will choose to express their displeasure remains to be seen.

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