Morocco

Last update: 5 months ago

In September 2021 parliamentary elections were held in Morocco. The elections were won by the liberal National Rally of Independents (RNI) party. The party managed to win 102 out of the 395 seats in parliament. The secular and royalist Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) became the second largest in parliament with 87 seats. PAM was followed by the conservative Istiqal party with 81 seats. The Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP) became the fourth biggest party, winning 34 seats. The USFP remains the largest left-wing party in parliament. After the elections, Morocco’s king picked Aziz Akhannouch from the RNI as prime minister and tasked him with forming a government. A coalition was formed between RNI, PAM and Istiqal. Together they hold a majority of 207 out of 395 seats in parliament.

The win of the RNI showed a big change in the political landscape of Morocco. The elections in 2006 and 2011 had both been won by the Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD). However during the elections of 2021 the PJD suffered a major loss. The party only managed to win 13 seats in parliament, a large decrease from the 125 seats that the party held after the elections in 2016.  The PJD responded to the election outcome by making accusation of vote-buying by rival parties. The PJD had now moved into parliament as an opposition party.

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Map of Morocco

Short facts

Population:
36,910,558 million (World Bank 2020 est.)
Governmental Type:
Constitutional monarchy
Ruling Coalition:
RNI, PAM, Istiqlal
Last Elections:
2021 (parliamentary elections)
Next Elections:
2026 (parliamentary elections)
Sister Parties:
Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP), Unified Socialist Party (PSU)
Image of Saad Eddine El-Othmani

Saad Eddine El-Othmani

Prime Minister

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Political Situation

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. Freedom house reported that while civil society organsations are active in Morocco, they are subjected to legal harassment travel restrictions, intrusive surveillance and other acts that limit their work. Authorities also routinely den the registration of non-government organisations that assert the rights of marginalized communities, and organization with links to Islamist Justice and Charity association.

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. After the elections in 2021, the King appointed Aziz Akhannouch from the RNI as Prime Minister and gave him the task of forming a government. Akhannouch is one of the richest men in Morocco, with a fortune that is estimated to be around 2 billion dollar. During the election, the RNI represented itself as a champion of social and economic reforms. The party is seen as close to the royal establishment, with Akhannouch declaring that he would implement ‘’his majesty’s vision’’ in a speech after the election results were declared. The RNI was widely perceived as being favored by the monarchy and the authorities during the parliamentary elections in 2021. The RNI has formed a coalition with PAM and Istiqal.

Western Sahara
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.

Hirak Rif
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. 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 percent of those who took part in the referendum on 1 July voted "yes" (turnout was estimated at 73 percent). 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.

Amendment of the electoral law       
In March 2021 a new electoral law was adopted that changed the calculation of the quota for elected officials. Previously, the seats in parliament were determined based on the total number of valid ballots during that election. However, with the new law the electoral quotient will be based  on the total number of people who are eligible to vote, meaning people who subscribed to electoral lists, instead of on the number of people who actually vote.

With this new amendment the denominator has become much larger, since the number of registered voters can be substantially larger than the number of valid ballots from people who actually go and vote. As a consequence, parties need to gain a much larger number of votes in order to meet the threshold to gain a seat. In Morocco, members in parliament are elected via electoral constituencies. This means that seats in parliament can be won in specified voting districts. With the new law, it is harder for parties to gain more than one seat per voting district. Small parties, on the contrary, will have more chance of being rewarded with a seat.

How this works can be shown by using an example. Let’s say there is a district where 5 seats can be won. There are 350.000 people who registered to vote, but the amount of people who also actually went out and cast their ballot is 100.000.

In 2016,  quotient that had to be met in order to win one seat was based on the amount of people who actually voted.   

Quotient of 2016: 100.000 (confirmed votes) / 5 (number of seats to be won) = 20.000.

Thus, under the old system a party needed to gain 20.000 votes to win one seat.

In 2021, the quotient was based on the amount of registered voters.

Quotient of 2021: 350.000 (registered voters) / 5 (number of seats to be won) = 70.000

This shows that parties need to gain more votes in order to win a seat in parliament. This can benefit smaller parties, because it is harder to meet the quotient. The diagrams below shows how this could work in practice.  

    Results 2016                                           Results in 2021

Party

Number of votes

Quotient

Seats      

A

60.000

20.000

3

B

28.000

20.000

1

C

20.000

20.000

1

D

1000

20.000

0

E

750

20.000

0

F

250

20.000

0

Party

Number of votes

Quotient

seats

A

60.000

70.000

1

B

28.000

70.000

1

C

20.000

70.000

1

D

1000

70.000

1

E

750

70.000

1

F

250

70.000

0

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because the quotient is higher, parties need to a lot more votes in order to win more than one seat. This can be a disadvantage for larger parties. However, for smaller parties it is an advantage. Since it is harder for all parties to win more than one seat, smaller parties actually have a larger chance of winning at least one seat.

Human rights                    
Moroccan authorities continue to crack down on freedom of expression in Morocco and Western Sahara by investigating and prosecuting journalists and activists. While the independent press enjoys some freedom when reporting on economic and social policies, the authorities punish critical journalist. Restrictions of the freedom of expression in particular target journalists and activists who are critical of the King, his family, the status of Western Sahara or Islam. Human rights defenders in the Western Sahara are intimidated, harassed and arrested for expressing their opinion.

Human rights groups also criticise the Moroccan government’s efforts to suppress reporting about the Rif region. Other human rights issues include torture by members of security forces, allegations of political prisoners, interference with the freedom of assembly and association, corruption and the criminalization of same-sex sexual relations. Individuals have access to civil courts to file lawsuits against human rights violations. However, such lawsuits are often unsuccessful due to the lack of independence of the court in politically sensitive cases, or lack of impartiality due to extrajudicial influence and corruption.

Women’s rights                
Women in Morocco continue to face discrimination in law and in practice. According to a survey conducted between January and March of 2019, over half of the women between the ages of 18 and 65 have been subjected to some form of violence.  

Rape is criminalized under Morocco’s penal code and individuals convicted of rape can receive prison terms of 5 to 10 years. Sexual harassment is punishable by up to six months in prison. However, marital rape is not recognized as a criminal offense. Civil society leaders have stated that the government does not make efforts to enforce the laws that are put in place to protect woman. Legal provision that are in place also emphasize ‘morality’ and ‘decency’ rather than the bodily integrity of the victim. This emphasis can further stigmatize victims of sexual violence. Furthermore, sexual relations outside of marriage are criminalized. This prevents victims of sexual violence from coming forward fearing that they might be prosecuted if their allegation is not believed.

The law does not specifically define domestic violence against women, but there are general prohibitions of the criminal code that address violence. According to NGOs, the police is slow to act in domestic violence cases and women are sometimes returned to their abusive homes against their will. In general the police treat domestic violence as a social rather than a criminal matter. Physical abuse is a legal ground for divorce, but few women actually report their abuse to the authorities.

Morocco implemented several gender quotas in 2011 after the Arab Spring protest. One constitutional amendment institutionalized and expanded the gender quota in the national parliament. The national list of seats reserved for women doubled from 30 to 60 seats, ensuring women would comprise at least 15 percent of the House of Representatives. 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. After the elections in 2021, seven women were appointed as ministers in the new cabinet. This is an increase from the last government, where only four women held the position of minister.  

LQBTI  
Same-sex sexual relations continue to be criminalized under Moroccan law. The maximum prison sentence for same-sex relations is 3 years. Records from the Prosecutor’s General Office showed that in 2019, 122 individuals were prosecuted for same-sex activity. Antidiscrimination laws do not apply to LGBTI individuals, and hate crimes are not criminalized. LGBTI persons also face discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and health care.

Activism and visibility of LGBTI individuals has increased over the last view years. However, this increase has also led to a rise in backlash against the LGBTI community. Rhetoric about LGBTI people being a threat to traditional values has increased. Hate speech against LGBTI individuals has also been used by public officials and religious leaders. There has also been an increase in LGBTI individuals being targeted by the police, which leads to blackmail, intimidation and in some cases imprisonment.

The public opinion of LGBTI individuals is largely negative. The criminalization and hate speech results in people becoming victims of harassment, discrimination and violence. These acts of discrimination and harassment are committed by private individuals as well as state authorities.  

 

Elections

Parliamentary elections

The Moroccan elections on the 8th of September 2021 have resulted in major win for the liberal National Rally of Independents (RNI) party. They managed to win 102 out of 395 seats in parliament. The centre-right Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) is the second biggest party, winning 87 seats in parliament, while the conservative Istiqal party won 81 seats. The Justice and Development Party (JDP), which has led the government since 2011, only managed to win 13 seats. This is a major change from the previous elections in 2016, where the JDP won 125 seats.

On the left side of the political spectrum the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP) gained 34 seats, becoming the fourth biggest party in Parliament. The Party of Progress and Socialism managed to win 22 seats. The Unified Socialist Party (PSU), led by Nabila Mounib, managed to win one seat. At the end of July the PSU separated from Federation of the Democratic Left (FGD). The FGD also won one seat in the elections.

The win of the RNI did not come as a surprise to many, since the party was favored by the Monarchy and by the authorities. Morocco’s Ministry of Interior had openly supported to RNI against the Islamist JDP and leftist parties that voiced criticism of the monarchy. A loss in seats for the JDP was also excepted due to the amendment to the electoral law which allocates seats based on the total number of registered voters instead of the number of voters in the election. However, besides the favoritism of the authorities and the amended election law, the loss of the JDP also resulted from an alienation with its electorate. The normalization of the ties with Israel angered patriotic Moroccans, and the legalization of cannabis alienated conservatives. Furthermore, due to the limited power that the government has in Morocco, they often lose their popularity when they are unable to carry out promises and bring about significant change.

The voter turnout rate of the legislative, regional and local elections reached 50.35 percent. This is higher than the 43 percent turnout in the 2016 elections, and the 45 percent turnout in the 2011 elections. The total number of voters has increased this year to reach around 8.7 million people.

Party

Seats

+/-

 National Rally of Independents (RNI)

 120

 +65

 Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM)

 87

 -15

 Independence Party (Istiqlal)

 81

+35

 Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP)

 34

+14

 Popular Movement (MP)

 28

+1

 Party of Progress and Socialism (PPS)

 22

+10

 Constitutional Union (UC)

 18

 -1

 Justice and Development Party (JDP)

 13

 -112

 Democratic and Social Movement

 5

 +2

 Front of Democratic Forces

 3

 +3

Federation of the Democratic Left

 1

 -1

Unified Socialist Party

 1

 New

 Total (turnout 50,35 percent)

 395

 -

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Regional and municipal elections 2021

For the first time in Morocco’s history, the regional and municipal elections took place on the same day as the parliamentary elections. Namely, the 8th of September 2021. Similar to the parliamentary elections, the regional and municipal elections also saw a major win for the National Rally of Independents (RNI) and the Authenticity and Modernity party (PAM). Like in the national elections, the Justice and Development party suffered a loss in the regional and municipal elections.   

Party

Regional seats

Municipal seats

 National Rally of Independents (RNI)

 196

9995

 Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM)

 143

6210

 Independence Party (Istiqlal)

 144

5600

 Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP)

 48

2415

 Popular Movement (MP)

 47

2253

 Constitutional Union (UC)

 30

1626

 Party of Progress and Socialism

 29

1532

 Justice and Development Party

 18

777

Source: http://www.elections.ma/

 

 

Elections monitoring      
Evidence of ballot manipulation has surfaced in relation to the parliamentary elections. According to the Moroccan High Commission of Planning, two-thirds of the voters that were registered to vote were residents of villages and desert towns. However, the proportion of the age group eligible to vote of the rural population does not exceed 33.9 percent. This raised suspicion of ballot manipulation. Furthermore, the records in the election offices in major cities were not shared with party representatives. This has led to doubts concerning the integrity of the elections.

A delegation from the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe observed the regional and municipal elections which were held on 8 September. According to the delegation, which monitored in two regions, the elections were calm, orderly and transparent overall. They did conclude some procedural inconsistencies, in particular during the closing of the polling stations and the counting. Furthermore, the combined national and regional elections posed challenges due to lack of clear guidelines regarding the electoral procedures. 

Political parties

Social Democratic Parties

Logo of Socialist Union of People’s Forces

Socialist Union of People’s Forces (USFP)

Party Leader: Driss Lachgar

Number of seats: 43

http://usfp.org.ma/fr/#

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Logo of Federation of the Democratic Left - Unified Socialist Party

Federation of the Democratic Left - Unified Socialist Party (FGD/PSU)

Party Leader: Nabila Mounib

Number of seats: 2

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Other Parties

Logo of Party of Justice and Development (Parti de la Justice et du Développement)

Party of Justice and Development (Parti de la Justice et du Développement) (PJD)

Party Leader: Abdelilah Benkirane

Number of seats: 13

https://www.pjd.ma/fr

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Logo of Authenticity and Modernity Party (Parti Authenticité et Modernité)

Authenticity and Modernity Party (Parti Authenticité et Modernité) (PAM)

Party Leader: Abdellatif Ouahbi

Number of seats: 87

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Logo of Independence Party (Parti de l'istiqlal)

Independence Party (Parti de l'istiqlal)

Party Leader: Nizar Baraka

Number of seats: 81

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Logo of National Rally of Independents (Rassemblement National des Indépendants)

National Rally of Independents (Rassemblement National des Indépendants) (RNI)

Party Leader: Aziz Akhannouch

Number of seats: 120

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Logo of Popular Movement (Harakat parti)

Popular Movement (Harakat parti)

Party Leader: Mohand Laenser

Number of seats: 28

http://www.alharaka.ma/

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Logo of Group of Constitutional Union (Union Constitutionelle)

Group of Constitutional Union (Union Constitutionelle) (UC)

Party Leader: Mohammed Sajid

Number of seats: 18

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Logo of Party of Progress and Socialism (Parti du Progrès et du Socialisme)

Party of Progress and Socialism (Parti du Progrès et du Socialisme) (PPS)

Party Leader: Mohamed Nabil Benabdallah

Number of seats: 22

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Democratic and Social Movement (Mouvement Démocratique et Social) (MDS)

Party Leader: Mahmoud Archane

Number of seats: 5

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Logo of Front of Democratic Forces

Front of Democratic Forces

Party Leader: Mustapha Benali

Number of seats: 3

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Biographies

Image of King Mohammed VI

King Mohammed VI

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Image of Saad Eddine El-Othmani

Saad Eddine El-Othmani

Prime Minister

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Image of Abdelillah Benkirane

Abdelillah Benkirane

Leader of PJD

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Image of Driss Lachgar

Driss Lachgar

Party Leader Socialist Union of Popular Forces

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Image of Nabila Mounib

Nabila Mounib

Party Leader Unified Socialist Party

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Image of Nizar Baraka

Nizar Baraka

Party Leader Istiqlal Party

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Image of Aziz Akhannouch

Aziz Akhannouch

Party Leader National Rally of Independents

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Abdellatif Ouahbi

Party Leader Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM)

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Sources