Morocco's leaders hope that an increasing reputation for democratic stability will increase tourism to places like this, the Sofitel Hotel in Marrakesh.
Morocco's leaders hope that an increasing reputation for democratic stability will increase tourism to places like this, the Sofitel Hotel in Marrakesh. | wikipedia, the commons

Morocco's Election Winners Will Struggle to Form Government

An election is held. The party with the most seats scurries to find coalition partners. What is unusual is the setting: Morocco. The North African country is rapidly developing one of the strongest democratic traditions in the Muslim world.


American strategists long have said that such democratic successes might help peace come to the infamously conflict-torn region.


If Morocco’s ruling Justice and Development Party (PJD) can form a new government coalition, it will be the first time an elected party has ruled the nation for two consecutive terms. The PJD, generally considered a moderate Islamist party, took a plurality of the seats in last week’s parliamentary elections.


Of 395 seats at stake, the PJD claimed 125 seats – up from 107 seats in the 2011 elections. The total is far short of the 198 seats needed to form a government. The Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM), generally allied with King Mohammed VI, came in second, winning 102 seats – nearly twice as many as it had won in the last elections. Istiqlal, Morocco’s oldest party, won 46 seats. In fourth place, the classically liberal National Rally of Independent (RNI) won 37 seats. Eight minor parties will the rest of the posts.


The elections marked the first time that an Arab Islamist party faced the voters and won re-election. While Abdelilah Benkirane will retain the prime ministership, it is unclear what political parties will join the PJD to form a majority in parliament.


For Morocco, the process may be more important than the outcome. Michael Rubin, a Middle East scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, believes the elections played a vital role in the growth of democracy in the Middle East and North Africa.


“Morocco is a beacon of democratic hope in the region” Rubin said. “In Tunisia, democracy is an experiment. In Morocco, democracy is a consolidated system. Morocco has a system that works. American policy wonks may have preferred that a liberal party had won the elections rather than the Islamist PJD. However, the continued role of the king should temper that concern.”


Close observers say that since winning its first election in 2011, the PJD has come to favor politics over ideology.


“In their transformation over the last decade, political expediency is as, if not more, important than ideology,” said Vish Sakthivel, an expert in North African politics at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. “Whether the PJD is deep down, a totalitarian vanguard, becomes moot.”


“In the short-term, I think PJD will try to form governments with Istiqlal which came in third place or one of the smaller parties,” said Mokhtar Benabdallaoui, a researcher on Islamist movements in Casablanca. “Istiqlal has ruled in coalition with PJD in the past and may be open to such an arrangement in the next government. “What is unclear how long such an arrangement could last,”


Morocco's other large parties have already said they will not join with the PJD. The PAM came in second in the 2016 parliamentary elections. PAM’s secretary general, Ilyas El-Omari, told AMI that his party was “against the PJD’s views and all forms of extremism,” he said.


The classically liberal RNI National Rally of Independents (RNI) party reportedly is also unlikely to form a government with the PJD.


“Working with the PJD gave us the experience of being in government, but the differences between us are vast,” said Salaheddine Mezouar, who led the RNI during the elections and is Morocco’s foreign minister.


Mezouar is a former international basketball player and spoke to AMI hours after the polls closed. However, a post-election alliance between RNI and PJD is no slam dunk.


“The PJD's project is about the international Muslim community, and our project is about the individual rights and individual liberty,” he said. “The real Islam is the relationship between the person and God with no one in between.”


Rubin (of the American Enterprise Institute) believes the difficulty PJD faces in forming a government speaks to the overall health of Morocco’s democracy:


“I think it is healthy if the PJD struggles to form a government. In the United States, we sometimes forget how important a vibrant opposition is to a healthy democracy. The continued role of the king is also an important part of the democratic process as he can ensure the overall stability of the country.”


On the other hand, some critics have expressed concern that election turnout, at 43 percent of registered voters (and just 23 percent of the 28 million eligible voters), fell slightly short of the already-low 45 percent turnout in 2011.


Morocco was the first country to recognize America after its independence from Britain. Morocco has been a key ally of the United States in counter-terrorism efforts in the Middle East and North Africa.


Last week's elections were only the second in the Morocco's history since King Mohammed VI enacted democratic reforms in response to the Arab Spring protests in 2011.




“In the short-term, I think PJD will try to form governments with Istiqlal or one of the smaller parties. What is unclear how long such an arrangement could last,” said Mokhtar Benabdallaoui a researcher on Islamist movements in Casablanca. Rubin believes the difficulty that PJD faces in forming a government speaks to the overall health of Morocco’s democracy “I think it is healthy if the PJD struggles to form a government and that PAM goes into opposition. In the United States, we sometimes forget how important a vibrant opposition is to a healthy democracy” Rubin said.


Last week's elections were only the second in the Morocco's history since King Mohammed VI enacted democratic reforms in response to the Arab Spring protests in 2011.