Fragility of the Party System in Morocco and the Way Ahead post-2011 New Constitution and Elections
Mohammed Hashas, Copenhagen University – Denmark 18 April 2012

The Arab Spring, the New Constitution, and 2011 Elections

Following these demonstrations that were part of the Arab Spring wave, led by the Movement of 20 February in Morocco, the monarchy reacted. On 09 March, 2011, the King Mohamed VI gave an unprecedented reformist speech and announced a reform programme and, unlike some other regional leaders, he appeared to be serious about implementing real change. In June, the King made a major speech in which he pledged that the majority in parliament would have a right to nominate the prime minister and that the prime minister would have the power to dissolve parliament. Nominating prime ministers and dissolving parliaments were two of the ways in which the Moroccan monarchy has maintained almost absolute control over the government. The King will now be obliged under the new Constitution to appoint the Head of Government from the party with the highest number of seats in Parliament. He will also make appointments in consultation with or on the recommendation of the Head of Government. The new constitution also expands the powers of the Head of Government and the Parliament, giving them broad legislative powers. Head of the government will preside over the council of Government, which prepares the general policy of the state. Previously the king held this position. High administrative and diplomatic posts (including ambassadors, CEOs of state-owned companies, provincial and regional governors), are now appointed by the prime minister in consultation with the ministerial council which is presided by the king, previously the latter exclusively held this power.

Besides other new rights fostered by the new constitution – civil and linguistic rights, freedom of religion, individual freedoms, and gender civic and political equality – there are rights for the citizen which will affect the electoral awareness and map new territories for the political parties. These new rights empower Moroccans with more control and leadership at the local government level—making local and regional officials directly accountable to voters, the establishment of independent agencies to guarantee civil and human rights protections, and the establishment of an independent judiciary with a newly mandated Constitutional Court.

The king nevertheless retains significant executive authorities. For example, the king continues to appoint the prime minister, although he is now required to choose him from the party with the highest proportion of the vote in legislative elections (art. 47); continues to appoint government ministers, although he is supposed to do so based on a proposal by the prime minister (art. 47); retains the authority to fire government ministers (art. 47); continues to preside over cabinet meetings and retains the authority to convene such meetings (art. 48); retains the ability to dissolve parliament (art. 51); remains commander-in-chief of the armed forces (art. 53); continues to accredit all ambassadors and to sign and ratify treaties (with certain exceptions that require parliamentary approval) (art. 55); continues to exercise his powers via decree (art. 42); and remains the country’s supreme Islamic religious authority as “Commander of the Faithful” (art. 41).

I believe that the parliamentary aspect of the monarchy will be reached gradually if the current institutions – the ones formed and the ones to be formed by the new Constitution – work well and gain the trust of the Moroccans. The monarchy will keep its executive powers as long as the political life in the country is not mature, which is an advantage for the citizens if the government is not doing well. By the monarchy I mean the King Mohamed VI and his official consultative body, and not the friends and family entourage that corrupt what the official side of the kingdom does. Institutions weaken corruption, even the one that may originate from the monarchy’s circle. An engaged civil society and rejuvenating political parties are the interpreters of the Constitution; they are its activists, as well as its protectors.

The new constitution went through referendum, and was adopted on 1 July 2011. On 25 November the Moroccans went to the polls for legislative elections, to elect a new government one year ahead of its “natural” time. As in the recent past, nearly 4,000 Moroccan, US, and international observers, including the National Democratic Institute and Morocco’s National Human Rights Council, worked with Moroccan civil society leaders to train and assist in carrying out the elections as well as ensuring against irregularities on Election Day. The 2011 elections are seen by national and international observers as unprecedented in terms of transparency and anti-fraud for the first time in the country.

The voter turnout in Morocco was 45%—an increase of more than 20% from the last parliamentary elections held in 2007. The Justice and Development Party (PJD) won most seats, 107, at least 16 of which will be held by women; followed by Istiqlal (Independence Party, Morocco’s oldest political party) with 60 seats; the National Rally for Independents (RNI) with 52 seats; and the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) with 47seats, Morocco’s newest political party, which ran for the first time in national elections, with 47 seats.

For the new government, headed for the first time in the country by an Islamist party (Justice and Development Party, PJD), the political fragmentation was brought about on the table during the first month of seeking coalitions to form a new government. The PJD could have found it easy if the Koutla/Block, formed in the early 1990s of three parties (Istiqlal, USFP, and PPS) and in the lead of the 2007-2011 government, all of it agreed with the ideology and electoral programme of the PJD. Yet, among these three parties only the Istiqlal was closer. The traditional strong socialist USFP has opted to go back to the opposition, to reinforce the democratic process and accountability of the government. They could not ally with the Islamists, though they have been both among the main opposition parties in the country for the last three-four decades, USFP first in the lead, and only came to power in 1997 in the Alternate Government. The socialist PPS agreed to join the Islamist PJD, despite ideological differences. But their alliance is justified by the fact that their electoral and government projects are closer and they all serve society in this transitory period. The socialist PPS´s acceptance to join the PJD, while the USFP big socialist party refused, was much debated when the coalition was in the making. The electorate as well as the political commentators were still confused as to the identity of the new government, being it led by Islamists and composed also of socialists. Yet, the current priorities in the country overshadowed ideologies and emphasized agreement on common governmental programmes, with ideology aside for a while. So, the PJD could not win all the Koutla/block three members – the USFP big socialist party opted for going back to the opposition. The PJD had to find at least one other party to win a majority in parliament.

During the election campaigns, the Coalition for Democracy was formed on 10 October 2011 and groups eight parties, termed G8, led by the National Rally of Independents and the Authenticity and Modernity party that both aimed at weakening the Islamist PJD. This coalition was composed of the National Rally of Independents, the Popular Movement, the Constitutional Union, the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM), the Labour Party, the Green Left Party, the Party of Renaissance and Virtue and the Socialist Party. This coalition itself was not harmonious ideologically. It contained royalists, liberals, socialists, and conservatives that are close to the Islamists. Many commentators saw this coalition as opportunist, in the sense that it did not aim at clarifying the political scene in the country but at confusing it more with its unclear ideological path. The PJD campaigned strongly against this non-clarity of political choices and called the coalition irresponsible, and aims at getting to power, and not to political maturity. The coalition would nearly disintegrate after their defeat in the election, and one of its parties would leave it and become the third party that joins the PJD in its coalition: the Popular Movement. The latter is historically close to the PJD, but was driven by the confused political scene in the country to ally with different parties.

After the alliance was formed, the new head of government, along with the secretary general of the three allying parties signed for the first time in the political life of the country a charter of mutual commitment. The aim of the charter is to end with the ranks within the coalition members, and to open an episode where the allying parties are considered equally and thus work more harmoniously. “The Charter defines the commitments of the government partners and the political-parliamentary rules of conduct within of the coalition.”

The political scene in the country was close to take clear ideological clarifications, and this form three main blocks: the conservative right led both by the nationalist Istiqlal and the Islamist PJD, the centrists led by the PAM, NRI, CU, and MP, and the leftist socialists led by USFP and PPS. Yet, the current government has tried but still could not clarify it as should be, seeing the previous historical and political heritage that still weighs down on the current situation that is still trying to find ways for political maturity. The old geographical re-districting in which the system and the Ministry of interior strongly intervened to favour a party or zone over another still harbours on the political scene. To reiterate the point referred to earlier, the Royal Consultant Commission established in 2010 by the King for Enlarged Regionalism Project has already brought about a new territorial division (12 regions instead of 16), and the aim is to foster more regional autonomy and national competitiveness as well as “good governance” of the wealth of each region. The project is promising, and if new institutional bodies are founded, as the new constitution reads, then that would also affect future political results and clarify the political scene at large.

The aspirations nurtured with the adoption of the new constitution, and the new government, is that the accountability of parties in governance, along with the newly established institutions for local, regional, and national good governance will all contribute to the well-functioning of the parties concerned, with less and less royal intervention, and with more and more constituencies political awareness and activism in monitoring their elected bodies, and cementing the fragmentation that has characterized them since 1956. The new constitution gives important weight to the role of the head of the government and the parliament, and the parties have to develop their internal institutions accordingly, otherwise the electorates will be disappointed and lose trust again in the political, and that could have serious problems on the whole system.

Eight Remarks: Evaluation of the Party and Electoral Systems and Propositions for post-2011 Politics

Having tried to shed light on the origin, development, and proliferation of the party system in Morocco in its electoral systems and functioning governmentally, I can draw what I could see as main headlines that hamper the well-functioning of the party system and the political life in the country in general. Among the main consequences of the fragility of the party system in Morocco, the following eight remarks could be underlined, both as an evaluation and propositions for the well-functioning of the party and electoral system, particularly that the new constitution has the potential to be interpreted in favour of good institutions and democratic representation of the electorate.

One, prior to 2011 elections and even up to now, fragility in the party system makes the representative and legislative body politic weak in the country, and this gives the Crown more space of action and rule. For instance, the 2007 Government was made up of four parties with different ideological stances, none of which has an absolute majority in the House of Representatives. In 2011 government, the leading PJD is in alliance with three parties, one of them is socialist and far from its ideological path, yet, the electoral system, and old redistricting legacy has impacted the electoral results and makes parties always in need of at least 3 big parties to come together, and sometimes more.

Two, up to now, the large number of parties in the House of Representatives and in the Government has meant the weakening of parliamentary and governmental institutions, and the improbability that the parties will become independent and autonomous actors. This has again given space for the Crown to act, and be also seen as the good mediator and arbiter in some big issues, as was the case with the Moudawana (Family Code) reform of 2004.

Three, the large number of parties that run for election disorientates the electorate and can cause disaffection. In the 2007 polls, abstention rose to 63%. Even in 2011 elections which were supposed to attract many voters, the turnout reached just 45%.

Four, certainly the new constitution of 2011 aims at curbing the Crown’s powers, but if the party system does not improve, and comes in touch with the masses to exercise more representative powers, the new constitution will remain a mere good reference paper with weak impact in practice. Yet, I assume that the Crown’s powers will shrink as much as the power of civil society and the parties/parliament grows.

Five, there is a risk that if the political monarchical system in the country does not move towards a more parliamentary one, the electorate’s dissatisfaction with politics would increase to unprecedented levels, and the protests against corruption would turn into protests against the governing system, i.e. the monarchy. There is fear that the regime would go on co-opting any opposition to the extent of taming it. The electorates feel that this happened many times, and especially in 1997 Alternance Government. The Islamist PJD is not ready to give up its opposition even though it is now elected “democratically/transparently” in 2011 elections. It is true that the Arab Spring has given chance to the Islamists to be in power, but their coming to power was actually expected, sooner or later, since they have been a strong opposition for the last couple of years, and their party was always curbed. Now, being in government does not mean, at least in my reading, that they are fully co-opted. The PJD may go back to the opposition if it sees that it faces restraints in its political movements and work agenda, which touches all levels, for the consolidation of reform and fight against corruption and favoritism.

Six, the new constitution, as noted earlier, gives new powers to civil society, the political parties/parliament, and the head of government; it most importantly gives more power to local and regional politics. There is a big project to revise regional politics in what is called “advanced regionalism.” The idea is to give regions more autonomy, political and economic. If that works democratically, without much meddling through gerrymandering and redistricting according to the system’s dictates, then the party system will develop fundamentally, and the electorates will know who to account for and who to “punish” because elections will have big impacts on their region on all levels. If the project goes well, the Crown’s executive powers will shrink gradually, the political parties will have to work better and more freely, and the electorates will not be confused or dissatisfied with the “invisible hand” that meddles in their politics.

Seven, if parliament is truly given the rights the new constitution gives it, then it will (have to) solve the party system proliferation and division, or fragmentation. By now, it should be understood that the latter is first the outcome of party dismemberment, and parties’ inability to merge, besides the Crown’s intervention and creation of new allied parties. A result of an excessive number of political parties, a consequence of the continual dismemberment of organizations, of the creation of new political forces wishing to participate in political processes, and of the difficulties in fusing parties to generate stronger partisan entities. It is also the outcome of the electoral system, chiefly because of the great number of low-magnitude local constituencies in which small parties have the opportunity of achieving representation. So, one outlet out of this confusion and fragility to develop mergers and to establish real ideological blocks top clarify the scene for the electorates and for the work of the government as well as the international friends of the country.

Eight, this point is a continuity to point seven, the electoral system has thus to be revised. The distribution of seats in local districts should be modified, by reducing their number and increasing their magnitude, and also by enlarging the national constituency in which the electoral barrier has been shown to be effective. Similarly, the former measure might be combined with a distribution of seats on the basis of the Highest Average formula, instead of the current Largest Remainder one, in order to strengthen majority parties.

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This paper is an excerpt from “The Legacy of the Party System Fragility in Morocco and the Way Ahead post-2011 New Constitution and Elections,” a paper prepared for The International Electoral Education Council (IEEC), International Electoral Policy and Practice Programme, held at the Scuola Superiore Sant´ Anna, 13-17 February 2012, in Pisa, Italy.


Mohammed Hashas, LUISS University of Rome, is currently a PhD fellow at the University of Copenhagen