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(See EXTRA <GO> and MET <GO> for more on the regional turmoil.)
June 18 (Bloomberg) -- Morocco’s King Mohammed VI gave more power to lawmakers in a draft constitution drawn up in response to calls for democratic changes in the North African nation and said a referendum will be held on July 1 on the proposal.
The new constitution will “make Morocco a state that will distinguish itself by its democratic course,” King Mohammed said in an address broadcast on television and radio yesterday. The king will no longer name the prime minister, who will be chosen by the party that wins elections and become head of the government. The monarch will maintain the power to overrule or dissolve parliament, which is elected.
Demonstrations calling for a reduction in the king’s power began in February, prompting King Mohammed to say in March he would introduce more liberties. While protests haven’t reached the scale of the popular movements that toppled governments in Egypt and Tunisia, security forces clashed with protesters on May 29 and one activist in the coastal city of Safi died from injuries.
The Feb. 20 youth movement, which has led the protests in Morocco, won’t participate in the referendum, said Aymane Aouidi, a member.
“There is nothing new in this proposed constitution,” he said in an interview. “Article 19 that we protested in the streets remains,” he said, referring to the article which gives all the powers to the king.
Human rights will be set according to “international standards” guaranteeing economic and political equality between men and women, transparent justice, freedom of speech and of the press, the king said yesterday.
The draft constitution offers a “considerable strengthening” of individual rights, said Nadir El Moumni, a constitutional and political expert at Mohammed V University in Rabat, in a telephone interview. “The King’s powers would be reorganized, redeployed in a more strategic way.”
Other proposed changes include allowing Moroccans to vote abroad, and making Amazigh, spoken by the ethnic Berber minority, an official language in addition to Arabic.
Islam would continue to be the state religion but the nation’s 32 million people would have freedom of religion. This proposed change drew criticism from Abdelilah Benkirane, leader of the Justice and Development Party, an Islamist party.
“It is true that His Majesty the King in his March 9 speech gave us assurances on the Islamic identity of the state,” he told reporters on June 10, after seeing the draft document. “However, I have fears that it will be undermined.”
The king, not technically the head of state, is the country’s secular and religious leader. The changes propose the monarch will no longer be considered sacred, though he’d remain inviolable and maintain the role of “commander of the faithful.”
Nabil Benabdallah, secretary general of the Progress and Socialism Party, said the changes show Morocco is entering a new era as a parliamentary constitutional monarchy.
“There will be a new balance of powers,” Benabdallah said. “It paves the way toward the establishment of a democratic state.”
Morocco’s economy may expand 4.6 percent this year, compared with 3.3 percent in 2010, according to the state statistics office. Tourism accounts for almost 10 percent of gross domestic product, raising $7 billion last year.
--With assistance from Paul Tighe in Sydney. Editors: Ben Holland, Malcolm Scott
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