Sunday, November 27, 2011

The November 25th Parliamentary Elections

13 million Moroccan citizens were called to ballot boxes today throughout the country to vote in elections that will determine a new parliamentary government, announced by King Mohamed VI in his speech on March 9th earlier this year. In accordance with the recent Constitutional reformation, the results of the November 25th election will determine the new Prime Minister based on which party obtains the majority vote.

In response to the wave of protests following the February 20th movement earlier this year, where an appointed commission was given until June to draft a proposal for a new constitution. On June 17th, a draft was released that proposed the following changes, which were later ratified into the constitution on July 1st: the King must name a Prime Minister from the majority party in Parliament and hand over a number of rights to the Prime Minister, including the power to dissolve Parliament; Parliament was given the ability to grant amnesty; and Berber/Tamazight became an official language of Morocco. Along with these changes and in reaction to increased pressure on the standing government to be more democratic and transparent, King Mohamed VI decided that instead of respecting the 5-year interval between Parliamentary elections, a Parliamentary vote would be held in November of the same year.

While in theory these elections mark another historical step towards a more democratic political system in Morocco, there are several factors, including low voter turnout, which suggest that what is intended by the government to be a major election won’t result in any significant change. The group of the February 20th Movement have been staging protests in the capital city of Rabat and posting videos and blog posts on their website Mamfakinch encouraging citizens to boycott the election because of voter fraud. The website Yabiladi, which is posting live updates of the election throughout the day, noted that at 1:45 this afternoon Mamfakinch had already reported several corruption cases on its website, including supporters of the Istiqlal Party bribing voters in the neighborhood of Sidi Abderrahmane in Rabat with money if they voted for their party. They also mentioned other similar instances of corruption from the PAM, RNI, and the PDD political parties in other quarters of the city. Cases of corruption are also prevalent in rural areas of the country where it is difficult for centralized rule to reach isolated communities. Many locals have no qualms with taking bribe money from political parties to cast a vote in their favor, since majority feel that the outcome of the election will have no effect on their daily lives. Along with the concern of corruption infiltrating the ballot boxes, voter registration is also contributing to a decreased voter turnout. Moroccans are registered to vote in the city where they are born, which can make voting a difficult task when the city where they grew up could be hours or even a full day of travel away from where they currently reside.

On white washed walls across the country, hand painted lines of boxes that resemble a week on a calendar have been filled in by different political parties with their respective symbols: the scale representing the Istiqlal (Independence) Party, the oil lamp for the Peace and Development Party (PJD), and the dove for the Peace Party, to name three. Though over 30 different parties are represented during this election cycle, many believe that after the results of the Tunisian elections and the general wave of Islamist policy in other Muslim countries such as Egypt and Turkey, it is the PJD who will come out on top. The PJD is the largest opposition political party in Morocco and promotes Islamism and Islamic democracy.

While there are undoubtedly many reasons that can attribute to voter anxiety towards this election, observations on the ground suggest that Moroccans are hopeful. According to YaBiladi’s live blog covering the election, the Minister of Interior announced at noon that there was 11.5% participation in Rabat, compared to the 10% noted by legislatives in the 2007 election. Supervisors of several voting booths throughout the capital also noted that a large influx of voters turned out after midday prayers, and are confident that the number of voters will intensify as the afternoon progresses, especially after 4 pm, when the work day is officially over.

Throughout the Middle East and North Africa, there is a strong history of governmental corruption, which has set a precedent for current elections throughout the region. As a result, many voters feel apathetic and believe that voting is a waste of time and energy. When discussing the elections with Moroccans, a popular sentiment has been that the Parliamentary elections is a superficial gesture by the King to appease discontent with the lack of progress made since the February 20th movement earlier this year. Many Moroccans that I was able to speak with mentioned that they found the lack of demonstrations leading up to the election disconcerting. Should the relative ‘silence’ of the Moroccan people be a sign of political surrender, or of faith in political progress? Only time will tell.