Vote Shows Morocco Is Deeply Divided Over Economic Priorities

  • Support for PAM surges in challenge to premier’s policy agenda
  • Stability has helped Morocco lure major European investments

Morocco’s ruling moderate Islamist party looked to form a new coalition government after coming out ahead in legislative elections, but strong gains by its main rival could impede an economic agenda opposed in parts by largely rural voters.

The incumbent Justice and Development Party won 125 seats, or 32 percent of the 395 members in parliament’s lower house, in the Oct. 7 vote, according to official figures. That’s more than the 25 percent it secured in the last election. The Authenticity and Modernity Party, know by its French acronym PAM and which is seen as close to the monarchy, provided the biggest surprise, winning 102 seats compared to 47 in 2011.

Over the past five years, Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane’s PJD has focused on the economy, working to cut subsidies and pensions -- measures praised by the International Monetary Fund -- but largely failing to reduce high levels of unemployment, especially among the youth. Leaders of PAM had vowed to reverse some of Benkirane’s most prominent policies, including a freeze on government hiring and unpopular pension reforms. The party’s increased support indicates how deeply divided Morocco has become over the pace and scope of reforms, analysts said.

Two-Party Clash

“It’s clear now more than ever that it’s a clash between the cities, represented by the PJD, and the countryside, represented by the PAM," said Riccardo Fabiani, North Africa analyst with Eurasia Group. “We’re facing a process of polarization of Moroccan politics, where two big parties are monopolizing.”

Morocco’s King Mohammed VI delegated some of his near-absolute powers to a prime minister as the Middle East was swept by a wave of uprisings in 2011, contributing to political and economic stability in the kingdom that’s been the envy of its Arab neighbors. Helped by Morocco’s proximity to major European markets and cheap labor, foreign direct investment has risen more than 11 percent since 2010, while Egypt and Tunisia have seen steady contractions.

While the PJD is likely to forge alliances similar to those it struck five years ago, the growing strength of its chief rival could force it to abandon more controversial measures. The Islamists had already adopted a reform policy that steered clear of challenging the still-powerful monarch, Fabiani said, choosing instead to pick “low-hanging fruit.”

With a serious contender for power looking on, the number of “reforms the PJD can work with is now shrinking,” he said.

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