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Islamists lead Moroccan parliamentary elections
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 12 - 10 - 2016

The Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) is in the lead in general elections in Morocco held 7 October, according to a statement by the Interior Ministry Sunday. The Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) came second, while the conservative Independence Party ranked third. The result gives the PJD, which has been in power since 2011, the lead on forming the next Moroccan cabinet.
The Interior Ministry said the PJD won 125 seats, PAM won 102, while Independence ended up with 46 seats after seven million out of 15 million eligible voters cast their ballots (a 43 per cent turnout).
The Socialist Union of Popular Forces Party (USFP), which was a major party leading democratic transition in Morocco between King Hassan II and his son King Mohamed VI, came in seventh, with 14 seats. It was followed by the Party of Progress and Socialism with seven seats; the Democratic and Social Movement with three; and the Federation of the Democratic Left with two. Other parties won two seats.
Around 6,990 candidates, representing 32 political parties and independents, contested the general elections for 395 seats in the House of Representatives, the first legislative chamber in the Moroccan parliament.
The elections were a test for Morocco five years after the king relinquished some of his powers to calm down protests demanding change in 2011, known at the time as the February events, in parallel with the Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria.
Although close results among the top four parties makes it more difficult for the PJD to form a new coalition government, the Islamist party won a moral victory that could be seen as a referendum renewing confidence in the PJD. The victory is expected to have a political impact that could reach beyond Morocco, which many view as a successful model of democratic transition in the Arab world since it started at the beginning of the millennium.
In his first statement after the elections, PJD Secretary General and Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane said his party's options for forming the next cabinet are open to all parties except one which would be impossible to partner with, namely PAM, which is close to the palace.
Benkirane told reporters it is unlikely that his party will have much difficulty forming the next government. “Nothing is certain in politics, but I believe the party will not have any trouble forming a government,” he added. “It is very likely it will be less difficult than in the past.” Benkirane said the electoral process in Morocco has advanced and there will be no backtracking on the democratic path.
Chapter 47 of the Constitution, which was amended in 2011, states that King Mohamed VI should appoint the prime minister belonging to the party that won the most seats in parliament. The king heads the Judicial Council, the security apparatus and cabinet that ratifies laws.
Before the elections, Benkirane vowed to retire from politics if his party was defeated in elections in a challenge to his opponents, who began a bone-crunching battle with Islamists in anticipation that the PJD would be sorely defeated in the first round since the Arab Spring deflated.
The elections were an opportunity to evaluate the policies of the ruling PJD and test its ability to maintain popular support earned in previous elections. It was also a test of how committed the palace is to democratic reforms launched in 2011, and to maintaining the same distance from all political parties on the scene.
The biggest surprise was the retreat of PAM, which was founded in 2009 by Fouad Ali Al-Himma, a close confidante of the king who previously served as delegate minister of interior and MP for Al-Rahamnah district before being appointed palace advisor. This gave prominence to Al-Himma's party when it was created and attracted key figures, leftists and heads of other parties. It won local council elections by a landslide in 2009 and 48 seats in the House of Representatives in 2011, despite being a newcomer.
PAM, however, is not likely to be a partner in the government coalition that will be formed in the next few days, as stated by the incumbent prime minister in statements to the press.
The elections were observed by the largest number of monitors ever in Morocco's history. Some 37 national and international agencies monitored balloting and vote counting after accreditation by the election monitoring commission of the National Council on Human Rights on 5 September. Among these were the Election Network in the Arab Region, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, the US's National Democratic Institute, Federation of People's Rights Centres and the National Council on Human Rights in cooperation with several Moroccan human rights and civil groups.
Although PJD won the most seats and heads the government, consultations for forming a coalition government remain opaque, especially in light of continued polarisation between the top three winners. The Independence Party withdrew from a coalition government led by the PJD in 2012 after disputes with Benkirane. Accordingly, the Islamist party may consult with other small parties on forming a new coalition government. However, there will be strong opposition to such a coalition inside parliament. This would mean the coalition would be fragile to any assaults by the opposition and collapse at the first political clash.
Moroccans are currently looking towards parties that could enter a coalition with the PJD. This gives the party several options, including maintaining the current coalition, amending it or forming an entirely new coalition to guarantee a comfortable majority in the face of opposition and enable it to implement policy in the coming five years.

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