Nov. 26 (Bloomberg) -- Moroccans are awaiting the results of a vote that will test King Mohammed VI’s commitment to shift some royal powers to an elected premier.
The balloting was the first since pro-democracy protesters began calling for a reduction in the monarch’s powers as part of the so-called Arab Spring that spread across North Africa with the ouster of the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
Turnout was 45 percent among the 13.6 million registered voters, the interior ministry said yesterday. In 2007, a below- average 37 percent went to the polls.
Among 32 parties that fielded candidates for the 395-member Chamber of Representatives is Prime Minister Abbas el-Fassi’s Istiqlal, or Independence Party, which won the last vote in 2007 and has taken part in almost every government since independence was gained in 1956 with the end of the French and Spanish protectorates. The party said its main aims include maintaining growth of about 5 percent and inflation of about 2 percent
The Justice and Development Party, or PJD, which came second in 2007, also sought seats. The Islamist group led by Abdelilah Benkirane pledged to create about 240,000 jobs and ban the media from “objectifying” women’s bodies. Like the other major parties, it is nationalist and pro-monarchy.
Also on the ballot was the newly created Alliance for Democracy, a bloc of eight parties led by Finance Minister Salah Eddine Mezouar that vowed to cut corporate taxes to 25 percent from 30 percent.
The elections have been a three-way race between the PJD, Istiqlal and the National Rally of Independents or RNI, said Abdellah Tourabi, a researcher at the Paris Institute of Political Studies, or Sciences Po, who specializes in Islamic movements in Morocco.
“The PJD is the front-runner; it has a big presence in the cities, and much less in rural areas and in the Sahara,” he said yesterday by phone. “Istiqlal, because it is best-managed party in Morocco, is very likely to be in the top three. The RNI will benefit from a transfer of candidates from the PAM,” or the Authenticity and Modernity Party.
The results are expected to be announced today. Morocco bans opinion polls that predict the outcome of a vote.
While the shift of power to an elected government makes this contest important for Morocco and for the wider region as it pushes for democracy, voters remained apathetic because only the PJD has a clear ideology, Tourabi said before voting began.
“People don’t see any difference between the parties,” he said. “Voting for left or right comes down to the same thing in a country where only the king is trusted and who in reality controls the country.”
While Omar El Hyani, a 27-year-old engineer, voted in the capital of Rabat, he said he had little hope that the elections will bring change.
“In the absence of a real desire from the regime to reform itself, they will remain a tool in the hands of the Makhzen to legitimize its actions,” he said, using the Moroccan term for warehouse, a reference to the royal advisers, business leaders and top bureaucrats who hold power behind the scenes. “I decided to vote this morning to stand in the way of certain corrupted figures. Parliament is a place where many laws are voted on, and we cannot afford to leave it in the hands of a political mafia.”
Yesterday’s balloting, originally scheduled for September 2012, was moved forward in response to the protests that began in February. While pushing Morocco toward change more quickly, the demonstrations haven’t reached the scale of the movements that toppled governments in the region.
Elected Prime Minister
In response to the unrest, a new constitution was drafted on the king’s orders and approved by voters in a July 1 referendum. It provides for the naming of a prime minister from the party that comes first in the vote, rather than leaving the appointment to the king’s decision. It also gives the premier the right to dissolve parliament and cedes to lawmakers the right to grant amnesty to prisoners.
While many demonstrators backed the constitution, some said it doesn’t go far enough in shifting power away from the king, who appointed the members of the panel that drafted it. The monarch remains the country’s military, secular and religious leader.
The so-called February 20 youth movement said it was boycotting the election. Its members still take to the streets every Sunday, calling for a parliamentary monarchy and punishment of officials accused of corruption.
Morocco’s macroeconomic policies, put in place over the past decade, and political changes mean it is well placed to respond to the unrest, the International Monetary Fund said in July.
Inflation is under control, credit continues to grow, and non-agricultural gross domestic product may reach 6 percent this year, the IMF said. The main challenge is achieving a GDP rate that will help reduce unemployment, which was at 9 percent and hitting the young, women and graduates hardest, it said.
--Editors: Heather Langan, Terry Atlas
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