Today was the day Moroccans went to the polls for local and regional elections. Some 15 million Moroccans are expected to vote by the time the polls close early evening
The Interior Ministry said polls had opened without any hitches in the vote for 30,000 local council seats and nearly 700 regional assembly posts among nearly 30 parties. First results were expected late on Friday evening.
The pundits say that Morocco's ruling Islamist party, the Justice and Development Party (PJD) is facing a major test of its dominance. Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane's PJD ran on a platform of changing "old regime" ways and fighting corruption but has never challenged the king as the country's ultimate authority, nor has any group or party except for a small leftist coalition.
The PJD held only a few towns in the 2009 elections and this vote will show to what extent they have made a difference at grassroots level after rising to power in the wake of the Arab Spring revolts.
While criticised for failing to make a dent in corruption, Abdelilah Benkirane can boast of a significant reduction in the public deficit (more than 7% to less than 5% of GDP), thanks to reforms subsidising gasoline and other consumer products.
|Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane|
Since his appointment in early 2012, Benkirane, has endeavoured to maintain relations with the royal palace, which retains broad powers, while at the same time keeping a close watch on the misadventures of other Islamist movements in the region, Tunisia and in Egypt.
Most opposition parties have campaigned on a very limited range of issues such as anti-corruption platforms and against privileges for the elite. There is also a scepticism amongst the population as many citizens feel that no matter who they vote for, nothing will change.
The Authenticity and Modernity party (PAM) may well make gains, although experts say PAM has been weakened by the loss of its leader, an associate of the king. It was also criticised as a symbol of corruption by protesters in 2011.
Some leftist groups and the largest Islamist movement in the country are tougher in their criticism of the monarchy, have boycotted the political process and the election.
Attention will also be focused on the number of voters. As the independent daily Akhbar al-Yaoum editorialised this week, "in a Morocco that is learning to walk along the path of democracy, participation in elections is not a luxury; rather it is the first step along the road to building the future,"