Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Morocco’s Election: The King Always Gets What He Wants

Morocco's Election
Morocco’s King Mohamed VI arrives for the inauguration of the capital Rabat’s Agdal train station for the new LGV (High-speed rail) line on November 17, 2018.

Mohamed Barghees

The results of the recent parliamentary elections in Morocco only indicate the determination of Moroccan King Mohammed VI to regain control of matters with an iron fist. The elections that took place on September 9, 2021, were a slap in the face of the Islamist movement, led by the Justice and Development Party, especially since the latter won only 12 out of 392 seats in Parliament.

The resounding loss that befell the Justice and Development Party was nothing but a foregone conclusion of the current political circumstances in Morocco. The party that led the government since the outbreak of the Arab Spring revolutions was the king’s card to absorb the intensity of the Moroccan street in the wake of the February 20 movement. It also made several mistakes that prompted the people to vote for other parties, to the extent that party leader Saadeddine Othmani could not secure a seat in Parliament.

Constitutional Monarchy?

After a long process of diluting political action, Morocco had the first signs of building a democratic experience for the first time since independence. However, it was soon aborted by the dismissal of the progressive government of Abdallah Ibrahim. Moroccan King Hassan II followed that era with repression of political movements, especially the new left movements and the federalist movements in the early 1970s.

At that point, the king regained control and led a campaign to root out any real political action by eliminating any viewpoint that disagreed with him. However, Hassan II was keen to give a different picture of the political process by establishing administrative parties that lacked political legitimacy and did not introduce any societal project. The role of these parties was limited to consolidating obedience and loyalty to the palace (known locally as the Makhzen), distracting the electorate, and consolidating the culture of rentier economy and clientelism. Over time, this culture grew and was bolstered with the setback of the rotation government led by the late Abdul-Rahman Al-Yousifi.

The last decade was characterised by circumventing the demands of the February 20 Movement, which demanded parliamentary monarchy and economic, social and political reforms after the Makhzen manoeuvred by approving the 2011 constitution. At that time, King Mohammed VI’s attempts to circumvent the individual character of the regime began to take shape, depending on the nature of Moroccan political life that was adopted at the time, which was based on the supremacy of the state’s authoritarian tendency. Although Morocco’s new constitution presented the kingdom as a constitutional monarchy, the monarchy retained the same status it had in previous constitutions, as the monarchy continued to rule and was strongly present in the political scene. In this context, the king preserved the most critical competencies, despite adopting new principles and rules to strengthen the legislative authority and the role of the government’s head.

Limited Powers

The king retained the presidency of the cabinet, which handles strategic directions for state policy and military-related projects, drafts administrative laws and general amnesty law. He also reserved the right to dissolve the two chambers of Parliament, in conjunction with remaining at the head of the Supreme Council of the Judicial Authority and Security. On the other hand, the government was granted a marginal role, despite appointing the prime minister from the winning majority in the 2011 elections. The authorities of the Justice and Development Party government were limited to issues related to sectoral public policies and the deliberation of projects and law decrees before being presented to the Ministerial Council headed by the king.

Conversely, the nature of the electoral system in Morocco forces the winning party to search for political consensus, which entitles the winning party to several concessions for the sake of government consensus with the rest of the other parties. Naturally, this electoral system contributed to consolidating the palace’s ability to control the electoral political map.

The accumulation of these matters produced convictions among Moroccans that the government of the Justice and Development Party lacks any actual powers and does not respond to their aspirations, which was confirmed by the movements that Morocco witnessed in recent years, especially in the Rif and Jerada regions. The demands of the marginalised and unemployed movements can also be added to the aspects indicating that government institutions do not have any powers and that the actual authority is in the palace.

A New Government with a Specific Task

Morocco's Election
President of Morocco’s National Rally of Independents (RNI) Aziz Akhannouch, reacts during a press conference in the capital Rabat, after his party came in first in parliamentary and local elections, on September 9, 2021. Morocco’s long-ruling Islamists have suffered a crushing defeat in parliamentary elections, coming far behind their main liberal rivals, the National Rally of Independents (RNI) and the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) seen as close to the palace, according to results. FADEL SENNA / AFP

The recent elections in Morocco revealed that we have moved from the corruption that provides services to the Makhzan to protect its interests to the corruption that has become the first in deciding policies. It can be said that the Makhzen lured the Justice and Development Party to be charged with all the imbalances, which caused its heavy defeat.

On another front, the current international and regional context help the rise of the National Rally of Independents party. The rise of this party does not indicate that it is a party with a reference and a vision. Instead, it is nothing more than a functional mechanism to contain electoral dignitaries, technocrats, and major contractors. The party’s rise indicates that the state regained leadership through electoral engineering in which elites affiliated with the media, art, sports, and culture contributed more.

From this angle, the Justice and Development party was drawn into a confrontation with the middle class, which is considered the party’s electoral treasury. The way the Islamists managed infrastructures and incomes of the major cities showed them incapable of achieving the aspirations of the Moroccan people.

The appointment of the new prime minister, Aziz Akhannouch, is nothing more than a step consistent with the palace’s aspirations for the new stage. Akhannouch, who was described as a saviour, an alternative and the right man for the current stage, will make it easier for the palace to pass bills easily in Parliament. It can be said that the bet of the National Rally of Independents and the rest of the majority participating in the new government is limited to activating its developmental vision. In this context, it must be noted that the practice of political action is linked to the assessments and tactics of a particular stage and is not an absolute permanent reality. But the constant in the Moroccan political equation is that the space left to political parties is meagre, and the capacity to manoeuvre in them is also tiny.

The King is the King

Amid these perceptions, it is evident that the king remains the constant element in Moroccan political life. The authority of the Moroccan monarch is not limited to the political aspect only, but also to the religious aspect, especially as he is the “Commander of the Faithful” and the descendant of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). This factor gave the king an additional dimension that enabled him to manage dealings with Moroccan Islamic parties in the “Arab Spring” era and ultimately deal a lethal blow to these parties.

At the same time, Akhannouch’s appointment to lead the Moroccan government is viewed as a marriage between political capital and power. Moreover, Akhannouch’s assumption of his new position does not go far from the chronic disputes with neighbouring Algeria and the aspiration of the palace to have a firm grip on the Moroccan political scene.

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