A month after Islamists won Tunisia's post-revolution election and days before their predicted surge in Egyptian polls, their Moroccan counterparts claimed to have achieved a similar breakthrough without bloodshed. The surge in support for the Islamist PJD raises interesting questions.
The head of Morocco's moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD), Abdellah Benkirane, claimed victory on Saturday and, aware of international attention, said he wanted a coalition government to promote democracy and good governance. "The nub of our programme and of those who will govern with us will have a double axis, democracy and good governance," he said. "Today what I can promise Moroccans is that I am going to try, I and the team which will work with me, to be more serious and more rational."
The Islamist party's main rivals in the polls were Prime Minister Abbas El Fassi's centre-right Independence party and in third place, the Coalition for Democracy, an eight-party pro-monarchy bloc that includes two of the five governing parties. Though the Coalition for Democracy, led by Finance Minister Salaheddine Mezouar, have amassed roughly the same amount of seats as the Islamists in the preliminary results announced, because they are a coalition, they cannot form government as it is the largest single party that is able to do so.
"The public powers did everything to ensure that this vote was a healthy and transparent democratic moment," Communications Minister Khalid Naciri said after polling stations closed on Friday, adding that "electoral competition was tough".
Provisional interior ministry figures put the turnout at only 45 per cent. Although this is up from 37 per cent from the last parliamentary election in 2007, it is lower than the 51.6 per cent turnout recorded in 2002. Analysts said that a higher voter turnout would have given credibility to the constitutional reform. The low turnout is a blow for the Moroccan establishment and resulted even though the state had saturation television commercials on Friday urging Moroccans to "carry out their national duty" by voting.Latest Figures:
PJD 80 seatsIstiqlal 45 seatsCoalition for Democracy 38 seats
Morocco's pro-democracy February 20 protest movement, responsible for the protests staged just before the King announced his plans to reform the constitution, had called on voters to boycott the elections. It will be interesting to see if future analysis shows if the boycott played into the Islamist PJD's gains.
With official results expected on Sunday, PJD parliamentary bloc leader Lahcen Daoudi described the result as an "historic turning point", saying, "The figures which we have say that we will have over 100 seats."
Under the new constitution, if the predicted results are confirmed, King Mohammed VI will have to name a prime minister from the PJD. The PJD's Benkirane acknowledged that his party would have to tailor its programme to appease its coalition partners and the international community. "As far as alliances are concerned, we are open to everyone, I have always said that," he said. "From now on, Moroccans will feel that the state is at their service and not the other way about. That is very important for us."
At that polling station, at least 16 percent of the ballots were either blank or invalid, often because voters had crossed out every party in protest at the choice. In 2007, 19 percent of ballots were invalid. Analysts are suggesting that if people voted for the bloc of traditional loyalist parties, that would suggest they want to maintain the status quo, while more votes for the PJD would indicate a desire for greater change.