Moroccan Islamist Group PJD Wins Biggest Bloc in Elections

Morocco’s main Islamist group, the Justice and Development Party, won the biggest bloc of seats, 26 percent, in parliamentary elections that will test King Mohammed VI’s commitment to shift some powers to an elected premier.

Turnout was 45.4 percent, the Interior Ministry said today in announcing final results. The balloting was the first since pro-democracy protesters began calling for a reduction in the monarch’s powers as part of the so-called Arab Spring that spread across North Africa with the ouster of the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

Among the 32 parties that fielded candidates for the 395-member Chamber of Representatives was Prime Minister Abbas el-Fassi’s Istiqlal, or Independence Party, which won the last vote in 2007 and has taken part in almost every government since independence was gained in 1956 with the end of the French and Spanish protectorates. The party won the second-largest number of seats, 60.

Voters “are clearly rejecting the past policies by picking the former opposition party,” Abdelilah Benkirane, head of the PJD, said by telephone yesterday. “Those who are against us must respect the principles of democracy. I frankly don’t understand why people are scared of us. With regards to women’s right, I don’t think anyone in 2011 can take the rights gained by women away.”

The Justice and Development Party, or PJD, pledged to create about 240,000 jobs and ban the media from “objectifying” women’s bodies. Like the other major parties, it is nationalist and pro-monarchy. It was second in 2007.

Three-Way Race

Also on the ballot was the newly created Alliance for Democracy, a bloc of eight parties led by Finance Minister Salah Eddine Mezouar that vowed to cut corporate taxes to 25 percent from 30 percent.

Between them all, the Alliance parties won 159 seats.

The elections were a three-way race between the PJD, Istiqlal and the National Rally of Independents or RNI, said Abdellah Tourabi, a researcher at the Paris Institute of Political Studies, or Sciences Po, who specializes in Islamic movements in Morocco.

The PJD “has a big presence in the cities, and much less in rural areas and in the Sahara,” he said before the results were announced. “Istiqlal, because it is the best-managed party in Morocco, is very likely to be in the top three. The RNI will benefit from a transfer of candidates from the PAM,” or the Authenticity and Modernity Party.

The RNI captured 52 seats in the election.

‘King Is Trusted’

While the shift of power to an elected government made the contest important for Morocco and for the wider region as it pushes for democracy, voters remained apathetic because only the PJD had a clear ideology, Tourabi said.

“People don’t see any difference between the parties,” he said. “Voting for left or right comes down to the same thing in a country where only the king is trusted and who in reality controls the country.”

While Omar El Hyani, a 27-year-old engineer, voted in the capital of Rabat, he said he had little hope that the elections would bring change.

“In the absence of a real desire from the regime to reform itself, they will remain a tool in the hands of the Makhzen to legitimize its actions,” he said, using the Moroccan term for warehouse, a reference to the royal advisers, business leaders and top bureaucrats who hold power behind the scenes. “I decided to vote this morning to stand in the way of certain corrupted figures. Parliament is a place where many laws are voted on, and we cannot afford to leave it in the hands of a political mafia.”

Elected Prime Minister

The balloting, originally scheduled for September 2012, was moved forward in response to the protests that began in February. While pushing Morocco toward change more quickly, the demonstrations haven’t reached the scale of the movements that toppled governments in Tunisia and Egypt.

In response to the unrest, a new constitution was drafted on the king’s orders and approved by voters in a July 1 referendum. It provides for the naming of a prime minister from the party that comes first in the vote, rather than leaving the appointment to the king’s decision. It also gives the premier the right to dissolve parliament and cedes to lawmakers the right to grant amnesty to prisoners.

While many demonstrators backed the constitution, some said it didn’t go far enough in shifting power away from the king, who appointed the members of the panel that drafted it. The monarch remains the country’s military, secular and religious leader.

Election Boycott

Morocco’s macroeconomic policies, put in place over the past decade, and political changes mean it is well placed to respond to the regional unrest, the International Monetary Fund said in July.

Inflation is under control, credit continues to grow, and non-agricultural gross domestic product may reach 6 percent this year, the IMF said. The main challenge is achieving a GDP rate that will help reduce unemployment, which was at 9 percent and hitting the young, women and graduates hardest, it said.

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