In October 2016 parliamentary elections were held in Morocco. The resounding victory belonged to the moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD), which became for the second time in a row the biggest party with a number of 125 seats. Its main opponent, the secular and royalist Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) doubled its representation in parliament to 102 seats. The largest left-wing party of Morocco, the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP), lost half of its 39 seats and became the sixth largest party of the country. A cabinet was announced in April 2017, after long negotiations. The new cabinet of Saad Eddine El-Othmani consists of the Justice and Development Party (PJD), the National Rally of Independents (RNI), the Group of Constitutional Union (UC), the Socialist Union of People's Forces (USFP), and the Popular Movement (MP). Together they hold 240 of the 395 seats in the House of Representatives.
The parliamentary elections of 2016 could be seen, despite the relatively low turnout (43 per cent), as a consolidation of the constitution which was implemented in 2011 and a continuation of Morocco’s democratic process. Constitutional changes were announced by the King following nationwide protests that started in February 2011 which called for political reforms. Protesters and several smaller parties continue organising demonstrations because they find that the constitutional changes did not go far enough and demand a truly democratic constitution.
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- 36,471,769 million (World Bank 2019 est.)
- Governmental Type:
- Constitutional monarchy
- Ruling Coalition:
- PJD, RNI, UC, MP and USFP
- Last Elections:
- 2016 (parliamentary elections)
- Next Elections:
- 2020 (parliamentary elections)
- Sister Parties:
- Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP), Unified Socialist Party (PSU)
The current King, Mohamed VI, came into power after the death of his father, King Hassan II, in 1999. While King Hassan II was an autocratic ruler, King Mohamed VI appears to have a different vision for Morocco’s future. Under his leadership, there seems to be a tendency towards more democratic and liberal values in Morocco. Mohamed VI has stressed the need for social and economic reform and the need to tackle problems like poverty, illiteracy, and unemployment. However, the space for civil society organisations is shrinking. For instance, the dissolution of NGO Racines by the Ministry of Interior was seen as a violation of cultural rights and democratic principles. Freedom House reports that civil society organizations are subject to legal harassment, travel restrictions, intrusive surveillance, and other impediments to their work. Personal freedoms are also diminishing. Prominent journalist Hajar Raissouni was arrested in August 2019 with her fiancé and charged with extramarital sex and obtaining an illegal abortion. State surveillance of online activity and personal communications is a serious concern, as well as the arrests of journalists, bloggers, and activists for critical speech. In November and December 2019, a rapper, YouTube commentators, and students posting critical views on Facebook faced detention or imprisonment in a series of high-profile cases involving the suppression of critical views.
Morocco’s political system is carefully evolving from a strongly centralised monarchy to a parliamentary system. The King retains much of the executive power, but the parliament is democratically elected. However democratic gestures and programmes do not mean that any real democratisation is taking place. King Mohamed VI has, next to economic and social reforms, also reinforced his own power base by strengthening the army and placing members of his inner circle at important positions in the government. In 2001, a decentralisation process was launched. The local governors, which are appointed by the King, have achieved more power and that is why this is considered by critics to be a well-groomed way of the King to expand his power.
Another way the King still yields power is his influence over the formation of coalition governments. In April 2017 the King of Morocco approved a new coalition government after Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane of the PJD failed to form a government for six months. King Mohammed VI dismissed Benkirane in March 2017, replacing him with the party's second in command, Saadeddine El Othmani, who managed to form a government with five parties.
Before Othmani's appointment, negotiations had stalled mainly because the National Rally of Independents (RNI) refusal to include the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP) in a coalition. Both parties are now part of a coalition government together with the conservative Popular Movement (MP), the Party of Progress and Socialism (PPS) and the liberal Constitutional Union (UC). Several key ministerial posts remained unchanged. Yet the PJD has lost the essential Ministry of Justice and Public Freedom.
Western Sahara is a sparsely-populated area of mostly desert situated on the northwest coast of Africa. A former Spanish colony, it was annexed by Morocco in 1975. Since then it has been the subject of a long-running territorial dispute between Morocco and its indigenous Saharawi people, led by the Polisario Front. A 16-year-long insurgency ended with an UN-brokered truce in 1991 and the promise of a referendum on independence which has yet to take place. Since 1991 two-thirds of the territory (including most of the Atlantic coastline – ) has been administered by the Moroccan government, with tacit support from France and the United States, and the remainder by the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), backed by Algeria. The Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), declared by the Polisario Front in 1976, is now recognised by many governments and is a full member of the African Union.
After the death of a Rif fishmonger in 2016 protests erupted in the Rif region in northern Morocco. Protestors demanded more liberty, security and social benefits in the region. The Rif region is populated by Berber tribes that have a distinctive culture. During the twentieth century, multiple movements have tried to gain more autonomy of even independence for the Rif. Although their language and identity are guaranteed by the Moroccan constitution, they are widely considered to be a marginalized group. Corruption, crime and high unemployment plague the region. Discontent with the central government has therefore been high. The Moroccan government reacted to the protests with a violent crackdown. A multitude of political activists is currently in jail for protesting. Security forces have ended protests and arrested even teenagers. The King has blamed his ministers mainly for the current situation in the Rif. According to the Palace, the King is often misinformed over-ambitious projects to resolve the problems. Abroad the protests have found a lot of support. European Moroccans have protested in front of Moroccan embassies. The Rif is currently under the strict control of the security services. A court in Casablanca sentenced Nasser Zefzafi, the leader of a protest movement the Hirak el-Shaabi, or Popular Movement in the Rif has been sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Moroccan protests 2011
The Arab revolution of 2011 also hit Morocco. On 20 February thousands of Moroccans joined nationwide protests in which they were calling for political reforms. They demanded King Mohammed VI to hand over some of his powers to a newly elected government and make the justice system more independent.
Inspired by the pro-democracy protests in the Arab world, a group called the February 20 Movement was formed. It takes its name from the date of its first demonstration and has faced tough resistance from the state security forces. The February 20 Movement is a youth-led network from various ideological backgrounds. Relying mostly on the internet, the group pressed King Mohammed to establish a parliamentary monarchy, enforce accountability, and grant the judiciary full independence.
On 9 March 2011, King Mohammed VI promised ‘comprehensive constitutional reform’ in Morocco and announced the establishment of the committee to work on the constitutional revisions, with proposals to be made to him by June that year. The monarch promised to hand over the power to appoint the prime minister to the parliament, and to provide Morocco’s regions with greater authority, saying it would help consolidate ‘our [Morocco’s] model of democracy and development’.
Despite the King’s guarantees, the demonstrations continued. On 22 May of that year, Moroccan protesters, led by the February 20 movement, took the streets in Rabat, Casablanca, Tangiers and Agadir. In a televised speech on 17 June 2011, King Mohammed VI announced a series of constitutional reforms, to be put to a national referendum on 1 July. However, on 19 June about 10,000 protesters rallied in Casablanca against the proposed changes, which they said did not go far enough. The 20 February Movement also rallied in other Moroccan cities, calling for a truly democratic constitution.
Constitutional referendum of July 2011
A national referendum was held on 1 July 2011. Following its results, constitutional amendments were introduced. The new constitution ensures that the prime minister is selected from the party that received the most votes in the elections, rather than chosen by the king. The prime minister becomes the ‘President of the Government’ and can appoint government officials - an authority previously held by the king. The new prime minister is also able to dissolve the parliament, the role previously accorded only to Mohammed VI. However, the king remains a key power-broker in the security, military and religious fields. The king continues to chair two key councils - the Council of Ministers and the Supreme Security Council - which deals with the security policy. The prime minister can chair these councils, but only using an agenda set by the king.
The voting system was also changed; the number of parliamentary seats decided on a constituency basis was increased from 295 to 305. Additional seats were reserved for the election from national party lists, 60 consisting only of female candidates and 30 for male candidates under the age of 40.
The new reforms were seen as legitimate by the Interior Ministry, according to which 98 per cent of those who took part in the referendum on 1 July voted "yes" (turnout was estimated at 73 per cent). However, the opposition said the turnout figure looked inflated and alleged irregularities in voting procedures. The result also followed a state media campaign in favour of the "yes" vote that appealed to a widespread sense of loyalty to the King, who is head of the Arab world’s longest-serving dynasty. Furthermore, protesters in Morocco do not think the changes went far enough. On 3 July the February 20 Movement took to the streets, rejecting the amended constitution.
On 7 October 2016, the second elections for the House of Representatives after the 2011 protests and constitutional renewal took place. The winner was the ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD), increasing its number of seats in parliament by 18 to 125. The main opposition, the secular and royalist Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) increased its presence in parliament by 55 seats to 102. In third with 46 seats came the Istiqlal party, which presented itself as an “alternative” to the new bipolarity of PJD vs. PAM. The National Rally of Independents (RNI) went down from 52 to 37 seats. The Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP) saw its representation in the parliament nearly halve, from 39 seats in the previous elections to 20 seats this time around. The Popular Movement (MP) gained 27 seats, the Constitutional Union (UC) 19, the Party of Progress and Socialism 12 (PPS), the Democratic and Social Movement (MDS) 3 and 1 seat for both the Unity and Democracy Party (PUD) and the Green Left Party (PGV). The Unified Socialist Party (PSU) cooperated with two other parties (PADS and CNI) in the Federation of the Democratic Left and won 2 seats.
The 2016 elections were the second elections since King Mohammed VI introduced constitutional changes intended to dampen Arab Spring protests in the country. Voter turnout was with only 43 per cent slightly lower than last elections (45 per cent). Reportedly, turnout remained low because of the people’s loss in confidence in Moroccan politics, followed by the failure of parties to make sustainable changes and to translate their promises into true achievements.
|Justice and Development Party (PJD)||125||+18|
|Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM)||102||+55|
|Independence Party (Istiqlal)||46||-14|
|National Rally of Independents (NRI)||37||-15|
|Popular Movement (MP)||27||-5|
|Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP)||20||-19|
|Constitutional Union (UC)||19||-4|
|Party of Progress and Socialism (PPS)||12||-6|
|Federation of the Democratic Left (FDG)||2||+2|
|Total (turnout 43 per cent)||395||-|
The largest left-wing party of Morocco, the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP), lost half of its seats and will be present with 20 representatives in parliament. The United Socialist Party (PSU), led by Endocrinology Professor Nabila Mounib, participated for the first time in the parliamentary elections, after boycotting the vote in 2011 due to concerns about the limited scope of the constitution. Together with two other parties (PADS and CNI) it united in the Federation of the Democratic Left and gained 2 seats.
Women in parliament
The proportion of women in the Moroccan parliament has risen from 17 to 21 per cent after the 2016 elections, meaning women now account for 81 out of a total of 395 seats. 71 of the 81 women gained their seat due to a quota system encouraging women’s representation, signalling there is still a lot of progress to make.
Regional and municipal elections 2015
On 4 September 2015 regional and municipal elections were held in Morocco that saw the ruling PJD taking control of the major cities of Rabat, Casablanca, Tangier, Fez, Marrakesh and Agadir. PAM won the most seats in the regions, with the conservative Independence Party (Istiqlal) in second place. Istiqlal lost its traditional stronghold Fez to the PJD. These parties fetched their support mostly from the more conservative rural areas. The opposition National Coalition of Independents (RNI) came in fourth, while the Popular Movement (MP) secured the fifth spot. The leftish parties did not perform well in the elections. The Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP) lost seats in both its strongholds Rabat and Agadir and gained just 7 per cent of the vote overall. The Party of Progress and Socialism only participated for regional seats and won just 3 per cent of the vote. The Federation of the Democratic Left (FGD), a coalition of the Socialist Democratic Vanguard party (PADS), the National Ittihadi Congress Party (CNI) and the Unified Socialist Party (PSU), got 90.000 votes (0,15%), gaining one seat in Rabat.
As a result of the elections, each of the 12 regions in the country will have a directly elected council with wide capacities. This is part of a reform plan designed by the new constitution that focusses on a higher level of decentralization and moves away from the traditional centralized and bureaucratic system. The voter turnout was 53.67 per cent, slightly higher than during the last local elections. Ahead of the elections 1.1 million new voters, of which 46 per cent were women, were registered. Despite some irregularities reported by independent observers, there were no major incidents and election day was calm.
|Party||Regional seats||Municipal seats|
|Justice and Developement (PJD)||173||5018|
|Authenticity and Modernity (PAM)||135||6662|
|Independence Party (Istiqlal)||119||5083|
|National Coalition of Independents (RNI)||90||4415|
|Popular Movement (MP)||58||3006|
|Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP)||46||2654|
|Party of Progress and Socialism (PPS)||23||1770|
|Constitutional Union (UC)||27||1480|
|Federation of the Democratic Left (FGD)||1||332|
The constitutional amendments of July 2011 increased women quota from 30 out of 325 to 60 out of the 395 seats. This means that every party can present one list, consisting of a maximum of 60 women candidates. Furthermore, the new changes include an article according to which women in addition to equal civil and political rights should have equal economic, social, cultural and environmental rights. However, the women quota is still below the 30 per cent claimed by women’s movements. At the end of the candidate registration period, women-headed less than three per cent of local electoral lists. On a local level, the representation of women is very poor. Only 0.5 per cent of the local councillors are women and there is only one female mayor in whole Morocco.
Following the invitation of the National Council of Human Rights (CNDH), the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) observed the parliamentary elections with seven teams of observers. The PACE delegation, led by Ian Liddell-Grainger, welcomed the professionalism of the authorities, who organized the poll with integrity and in full transparency. It commended the professionalism and courtesy of the members of the polling stations that the delegation met during its visit. In addition, it welcomes changes in legislation opening the young people list to women and the choice made by some parties to include a majority of women in their young people lists; it regrets that these and other legislative changes were made only at a late stage.
PACE noted that some aspects of the electoral process could be improved. Cases of electoral fraud were reported, even though the members of the delegation did not see them. PACE will investigate these cases. Furthermore, the delegation advised the Moroccan government to create an independent Central Electoral Commission. It also regrets that the current voters’ registration system and the awareness campaign have not produced a turnout higher than in 2011, particularly among young voters, and notes the surprisingly high amount of spoilt ballot papers. The late release of party programmes/manifestos might have been one of the reasons for the low turnout, the delegation said. Finally, the organisation of the polling stations in a more structured manner could be improved; particularly in the counting process.
King Mohammed VIRead biography
Party Leader Socialist Union of Popular ForcesRead biography
Party Leader Unified Socialist PartyRead biography
Party Leader Istiqlal PartyRead biography
Party Leader National Rally of IndependentsRead biography
Party Leader Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM)Read biography
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