The Moroccan Parliament building.
The Moroccan Parliament building. | wikipedia, the commons

Moroccans head to polls for historic election

Rabat, Morocco – The one sure thing about Morocco’s national election on Friday is that it will become a historic milestone. If the ruling PDK party wins, it will mark the first time a party has been returned to power democratically. If it loses it will mark the first time an Islamist government in the Arab World could be voted out of office, rather than losing power through a coup, revolution or invasion.

“This is an important election, it is the only time an Arab Islamist party has completed its mandate,” Nasser Bourita, a senior advisor to the Moroccan Foreign Minister, told AMI Newswire in his office on the edge of Rabat’s historic walls. “In Egypt and Tunisia, this democratic experiment was aborted.”

As the North African kingdom heads to the polls to choose a new parliament, the rest of the Arab World awaits the outcome.

The Justice and Development Party (PJD) is a moderate Islamist party modeled on Turkey’s ruling AKP party. It has held power since the elections held in November 2011, the first following constitutional reforms adopted in response to the Arab Spring. 

More than 30 parties will contest the Friday election. Of these, observers believe the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) has the best chance to forge a winning coalition and unseat PJD. PAM – which has traditionally had close ties to the nation’s king, Mohammad VI – won local elections in 2015 and hoped to benefit from dissatisfaction with the PJD's coalition government. In August, two PJD politicians Moulay Omar Benhammad and Fatima Nejjar were found in a sexual position in a parked car on the beach 60 miles south of Rabat. Mr. Benhammad who is married to another woman and Nejjar were both suspended from the party. The scandal tarnished the party’s image and the economy is sagging.

Earlier this week Moroccan security forces uncovered an all-female ISIS cell with members in Rabat. The cell planned to launch strikes to disrupt the elections. The mood in Rabat night before the election was calm. Mohammed El-Mouni, a chief researcher with Morocco's National Council of Human Rights, does not think the terror threat will impact the election

“Security worries will not have an impact on electoral behavior, despite the arrests. Moroccans don’t associate elections with violence this isn’t Iraq or Afghanistan” he said.

Morocco has a stable voting system but, one that is still developing. Unlike states in the region, Morocco does not conduct overseas polling at its embassies and consulates for expatriates. Instead, they must vote by the use of a proxy in Morocco. “In the last elections in 2015, only seven citizens elected to vote by proxy.” Mouni said

Morocco is an important U.S ally in the region. The Moroccan military has fought in both the U.S led campaign against ISIS, and the Saud led a military campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Brahim Benjelloun Touimi, chairman of the Bank of Africa, believes that the peaceful political process in Morocco is an example of “Moroccan exceptionalism…our system has allowed our country to remain stable and continue to grow despite turmoil elsewhere in the Arab world” he said while enjoying a traditional meal chicken tagine cooked with lemon and olives an elegant Moroccan restaurant in Rabat. The restaurant is located in La Tour Hassan, a former palace turned hotel. Its English menus and traditional Moroccan arched doorways are aimed at attracting international tourists. The tourism sector is the second only to phosphate production as a foreign exchange earner for the country.