Situating the Moroccan elections in their global context
Brahim El Guabli 22 November 2011

Let’s first say that Morocco is heading towards its ninth legislature ever since its independence from the French protectorate on November 18th, 1956. It is equally important to point out that July 2011 constitutional reforms were not the first in the constitutional history of the country because the country witnessed similar reforms in 1970, 1972, 1992 and 1996. Each constitutional reform and the ensuing legislature happened within very precise national juncture that we do not have time to detail in this short presentation. More interestingly, Morocco had its first project of a constitution in 1908 that was however aborted by the advent of the French protectorate four years later. Therefore, it is crucial that we explore the political conditions at the local, regional and international levels that made these premature elections possible and expedited a process that would have taken longer to materialize. The November 25th elections were supposed to take place in September 2012. However, the political conjuncture in the Maghreb and the Arab world imposed not only a change of the electoral schedule but a whole new set of priorities that the country is facing in a fast changing Arab world.

Talking about Moroccan elections necessitates a quick overview of the political landscape and the different stances taken by different components of the Moroccan parties in regards to the questions of political reforms. Based on our observation of the political actors and their discourse in the pre-February 20th period—we need to make this distinction because surprisingly the demarcation lines became blurred between all the parties later on—we can break down the legal political parties’ stances in regards to the necessity of political reforms into three main poles:

1. The first pole made of parties that believed in the necessity and urgency of undertaking and implementing reforms. Here it is necessary to mention a roundtable that was held in the headquarters of the Unified Socialist Party in January 2010 under the theme of “Constitutional Reform is the pathway to Democratic Change” in celebration of the centenary of the first project of a constitution in 1908. The participants in this roundtable belong to the “left family” including Hassan Tariq from the USFP. The speakers agreed that a new generation of constitutional reforms were/vital for Morocco to establish a genuine democracy. These Leftist parties share a strong ideology that democratization in the country is contingent on a deep constitutional reform that would redistribute power and provide guarantees for the political actors that a genuine democracy will be established.

These parties (Annahj Addimocrati, PSU, PS, Avant-garde Democratique) continued their advocacy for deeper reforms in the political arena in the country. They also took on the fight against corruption and elevated it to the level of a political and social battle which brought them very close to the people. Moreover, their activism through their human rights branches and the National Coordinations for the Fight against the High Cost of Living (created in 2006) bring them even closer to the grassroots organizations at the local level. This fact gives their rhetoric popular legitimacy despite the fact that they have never managed to translate this legitimacy into seats in parliament because they either did not win the elections when they participated or because of their long history (or at least some of them) of election boycott. Some of their activists wonder whether this is the right decision to self-deprive from political participation. They also argue that working from within would be have been a healthier strategy. These divergences led to the many splits that happened over the years within these formations.

2. The second pole is make of the Nationalist parties (Istiqlal and USFP, PPS) and what has come to be known as the Administrative parties (UC, RNI, MP) because of the conditions of their birth and their very close ties with the territorial administration. This category believed that the conditions were not propitious for a constitutional reform and expressed their belief that collective work was needed to reach a compromise within the framework of the Kotla/Wifaq or a national consensus with the monarchy in order to achieve constitutional changes without actually defining the nature of these reforms. This camp also believed that constitutional reform take time to gestate and they should be within a national context that will better serve the democratization process. Among this group we can single out the USFP as having resorted to the language of constitutional reforms whenever its relationship went bad with the other components of the political arena. Commentators have always said that whenever the USFP resorts to the “threat” of constitutional reforms, we should understand that the thermometer of its relationship with other parties is not going well.

3. The third pole is made of the PJD (Justice and Development Party). This latter’s stance on constitutional reforms has been unclear and always tied to the “majority” wants. This latter can be understood again within the historical conditions in which this party was allowed access into Moroccan politics. It needs to prove itself before engaging in such a debate. However, the party’s leadership made it very clear that they cling to the constants of the nation which are: the monarchy, the Islamic religion, the national territorial unity and Morocco’s belonging to the Arab world, in addition to their belief in the democratic way as the only way to effectuate political alternation in the country.

These can be considered roughly as the three major trends within the country vis-à-vis the necessity of constitutional reforms. All the indicators emanating from the majority of political parties indicated that the constitutional reforms were not an immediate necessity, and thus were sent to calendes grecques. The major political players in the country were not ready to debate such reforms for many objective and subjective reasons pertinent to their interests. However, the sand dunes of politics are shaky and moved quicker than anyone expected in the region.

Three major developments happened in North Africa and the Middle East, and imposed a reconfiguration of the political map in the region. The Moroccan politicians felt the need to act quickly and smartly after:

• The ouster of Ben Ali on January 14th after one month of popular demonstrations in the country which were started by the self-immolation by Mohammed Bouazizi whom a Tunisian civil society member called the “entrepreneur who liberated the Arab people.”

• The beginning of the Egyptian uprising on January 25th which ultimately ended by the resignation of the president and a much waited for success of the civil peaceful uprising in the country.

• These inroads have inspired other people in the Middle East and in the Maghreb to take to the streets and demand more democracy and social justice (from Libya to as far as the Persian Gulf).

• The foreign friends of the ousted regimes added insult to the injury when they sided with the people’s will and even supported their demands for change.

It is within these conditions that February 20th Movement was born in Morocco. The movement defined itself as being made of: activists who demand reforms, human rights and political activists and reform-minded Moroccans who aspire to live in dignity in a free democratic society. The movement stressed its independence from all the organizations and political parties in the country.

Its members developed a set of socio-economic, social and political requests whose meticulous analysis shows the primacy of a larger democratization in the country along with the consecration of social justice issues as a national priority. One of the first documents from the movement listed the following demands: the establishment of a new constitution that represents the popular will, the dissolution of the government and parliament, the establishment of a transitional government accountable to the people, an independent and impartial justice, bringing symbols of corruption, abuse of power and pillagers of public money and national wealth to justice, awarding Amazigh language and culture a constitutional status, immediate release of all political detainees and detainees of opinion and all activists that were arrested because of their activism, enlarging the spheres of freedom in the country, stopping the high cost of living (the Movement for the fight against the High Cost of Living initiated by AMDH in 2006 played a seminal role in this effort) and increasing salaries and universalisation of social services and welfare.

In order for the Februrary 20th Movement to be efficient in achieving its goals without being elitist or unrepresentative of the general Moroccan mood, it sought to garner support for its activism from all social and economic classes in the country, and especially among the youth. It also strove to keep its ideological independence vis-à-vis the political parties that tried to cannibalize its capacities and channel its activism from the outset to serve their political agenda. Their independence is so cherished for the activists in the movement that they never missed an opportunity to reiterate that they were not guided by the political ideology of any party. The specter of Justice and Charity Group lurked around the movement and marred its name after members of the group allegedly occupied important positions within its structure.

The response of the Moroccan authorities to the requests emanating from the Moroccan youth did not take long. The Monarch addressed the nation in a televised speech on March 9th 2011. The entire speech was dedicated to the regionalization process that was initiated in the country which required a constitutional setting in order to implement the new provisions devised to enhance the local democracy. The King expressed his full awareness “of the immense challenges ahead, of the legitimate aspirations expressed, and of the need to preserve accomplishments and redress inadequacies”. He tasked an ad hoc committee under the chairmanship of Professor Abdellatif Mannouni to formulate a draft constitution by no later than June 2011, and provided the following guidelines, among others, for the new constitution:

– Enshrine in the Constitution the rich, variegated yet unified character of the Moroccan identity, including the Amazigh (Berber) component as a core element and common asset belonging to all Moroccans.

– Consolidate the rule of law and the institution-based State; expand the scope of collective and individual freedoms and guarantee their practice; promote all types of human rights – political, economic, social and cultural rights as well as those relating to development and the environment.

– Elevate the judiciary to the status of an independent power and reinforce the prerogatives of the Constitutional Council to enhance the primacy of the Constitution, of the rule of law and of equality before the laws.

– Strengthen the principle of separation of powers, with the relating checks and balances, and promote the democratization;

– Confirming the appointment of the Prime Minister from the political party which wins the most seats in parliamentary election, as attested by election results;

– Consolidating the status of the Prime Minister as the head of an effective executive branch, who is fully responsible for government, civil service and the implementation of the government’s agenda;

– Enshrining, in the Constitution, the Governing Council as an institution and specifying its prerogatives.

– Shore up constitutional mechanisms for providing guidance to citizens, by invigorating the role of political parties within the framework of an effective pluralistic system, and by bolstering the standing of parliamentary opposition as well as the role of civil society.

– Reinforce mechanisms for boosting moral integrity in public life, and establish a link between the exercise of power and the holding of public office with oversight and accountability.

– Enshrine in the Constitution the institutions concerned with good governance, human rights and protection of liberties.

Abdellatif Mennouni’s commission conducted large consultations with the major stakeholders in the country. The commission led wide consultations with civil society activists, political parties and representatives of all vital sectors before writing up the draft constitution which was submitted to the King in June as expected. Again the work of the commission was not the locus of unanimity among the different activists but, like any other political process, it created a healthy debate in the country. Moroccans were asked to vote in a referendum for the proposed reforms on July first. The Government claimed that the turnout was 72.65% and that a stunning majority of 97 percent of the voters adopted the tenth constitution in the Moroccan history. Despite the fact that that many components of the February 20th Movement called for the boycott of the referendum. Now, Morocco has a new constitution that literally reproduces many of the elements contained in the King’s March 9th speech which laid down the roadmap for these reforms.

Despite the general smoothness of the constitutional reform process, the February 20th Movement kept its pressure in the streets in order to signal to the power holders that they needed to heed their demands. However, the commission did not only face challenges from the protesters but also from political parties. Mohammed Tozy, a political science scholar and member of the commission in charge of drafting the new constitution, said that “the project of the new constitution has addressed the issue of the civil state” adding that “that pressures exerted by the Unicity and Reform Movement (the religious wing of PJD) and the threats of Benkirane, the Party’s General Secretary, and the statements of a prominent leader in the Istiqlal Party managed to nip it from the bud”. We can read in this statement that some conservative forces in the country put all their weight on the commission to obstruct a constitution that would have been far more advanced than the one Moroccans were asked to vote for in July.

One question comes to mind regarding the challenges ahead of the sound implementation of the provisions contained in the new constitution. We can briefly quote Professor Mennouni himself in interview with L’Economiste in which he specifically addressed the issue of political elites in the country. When asked by L’Economiste whether this current political class will be able to carry out the provisions of the new constitution, Professor Mennouni’s answer was that “the constitutional text involves a bet. It is the transformation of the current political elite, if not the emergence of elites in the near future that will be in line with the openings granted by the new Constitution. These elite should take ownership of these openings so that all the potentialities of the draft Constitution are externalized. The bet is not unfounded. Constitutionalizing the relationship between the exercise of responsibility and accountability should pave the way for a more open and less controlled political game, involving uncertainty and therefore the competition between political parties and forces. These players will be encouraged to train activists, choose the best, strive for efficiency, in addition to setting themselves goals and results. It will take time but we may come to some sort of correspondence between the constitutional text and the political profile of the political elite”. This is an insightful comment that might indicate the existence of a deep awareness that there is a lot of work that needs to be done in the future in terms of the renewal of the political elites in the country. A new political elite that can embody the aspirations of the Moroccan people and reify the spirit of the reform oriented new constitution.

Civil society has many roles to play in the few months and years to come in order to keep the democratic momentum in the country, and also keep conviction alive among the youth that democracy is a national need. Democracy does not need regimes; regimes need democracy because it is their only way to stay abreast of the legitimate aspirations of their people and be responsive to them. The highly dynamic and active Moroccan civil society can help in implementing the new constitution and protecting this achievement through: playing their role of watchdog, doing more grassroots activism against corruption and political malpractice, spearheading the political cultural change, fighting all forms of abuse of power and advocating for social justice in the country.

Will Morocco choose democracy in the wake of November 25th elections? The answer to that is contingent on the behavior of the political actors/elites and their work to build on the positive platform laid down by the new constitution.

This is the text of Brahim El Guabli’s lecture at the panel on Moroccan Elections organized by MWN and Middle East Institute at Columbia University, New York.