Salah Eddine Salmi

Salah Eddine Salmi
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Democracy, Elections, Featured, Morocco, Political Parties, Political Reform



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On September 4, Morocco will hold municipal and regional elections, after postponing them due to political parties’ demands and a tremendous reluctance among citizens to register as voters. However, as elections approach, Moroccan society remains divided on how to approach these municipal elections: one group advocates for participation in the elections while the other is in favor of boycotting the elections. As always in Morocco during the lead-up to elections, debate has been rampant on Facebook and on other social media.

Generally speaking, elections are of great significance in any democratic country. It is a chance for the citizen to be heard, to hold elected officials accountable for their decisions, and to have a say in important issues that affect their community. Therefore, on election day, every vote matters in truly democratic countries. Yet Morocco is not a genuinely democratic country, nor does it have elected officials who have genuine influence on national and international policy and are accountable to the Moroccan people.

True, Morocco holds elections, but Moroccans consistently elect a government that only follows the orders of the King and his companions with what is known as the “shadow government”. Abdelilah Benkirane, the current head of government, said on Aljazeera TV in May that, “His Majesty the King is the one who rules Morocco; he is the head of state, commander of the faithful, and the heads of the judiciary and the armed forces. He is the head of everything and this is what we have in the constitution.”

Moroccans cannot hold the king accountable for his actions because he is protected by the constitution. Therefore, we can only assume that the parliamentary elections are simply a façade that is meant to suggest to the international community that Morocco is a democratic country. In reality, the king is the head of almost all the main governmental branches and he can replace ministers with those that please him in a government reshuffle any time he deems appropriate; this has happened many times already. Thus, as long as the Moroccan constitution designates the king as the head of state and grants him ultimate control over most governmental branches, there is no hope the act of voting having any real significance.
This lack of significance was demonstrated when the Justice and Development Party (PJD) won the parliamentary elections of 2011. They entered Morocco’s hopeless political game adopting the Moroccan street’s slogan during the Arab Sping uprisings “to fight corruption and tyranny.” However, they were faced with the harsh reality that given current circumstances, it is impossible to fight corruption in Morocco. When they failed miserably in their central mission, the head of the government (and head of the PJD), Abdelilah Benkirane, said: “Let bygones be bygones;” and the party has since adopted policies which favor the ruling elite and the rich while hammering the masses with unpopular decisions.

Since the parliamentary elections suffer from these setbacks, it is important to understand how this affects Morocco’s municipal elections. During country-wide municipal elections such as the upcoming elections, it is unclear how many Moroccans will cast their ballots. In general, more Moroccans participate in municipal elections than parliamentary elections since these elections have a greater impact on daily life. Yet the municipal and regional elections are notorious for widespread breaches and violations of proper electoral procedures ranging from manipulation of results to vote purchasing, especially in the countryside. Due to high illiteracy rates, a general lack of political awareness, and poverty among Moroccan citizens, corruption is widespread. Moroccan courts have considered hundreds of official complaints of bribery, local officials giving preferential treatment to certain candidates, and voter and candidate intimidation. Even the King has called on citizens not to sell their votes and to instead vote for the most deserving qualified candidates. These facts have led to two differing camps of opinion, who either support participation in elections or discourage it.

Those who call for participation in the elections believe that choosing not to vote provides corrupt candidates with a greater chance of winning. Therefore, they argue, all Moroccans should vote and choose representatives who would serve the common good. This argument may appeal to many Moroccans and many political parties support it. However, the argument for boycotting the elections appears to be realistically stronger. These critics of the elections state that given the current political circumstances, it is almost impossible to achieve real change through municipal and regional elections. The chain of command prevents reform, since municipalities cannot execute most sensitive decisions unless they get the approval of higher authorities like the governor of the region, who is subject to the ministry of interior, who is ultimately subject to the King. On top of that, many honest representatives who have tried to fight corruption and enact reforms become stuck in the face of corruption’s complexity, eventually following the commands of their superiors in the ministry of interior. Thus, the positive impact of honest municipal politicians is limited at best.

Technical issues with the voting process itself are also a cause for concern. Moroccan authorities insist on citizen registration in voting lists and voting cards while refusing to adopt more the practical and honest option of national identity cards (CIN) for all voting-age citizens, since authorities are well aware that the majority of Moroccans boycott the elections. Because turnout is a crucial factor to the legitimacy of elections, implementation of the CIN would produce a scandal by showing the world the dismal turnout rate and real proportion of the Moroccan population voting in Morocco represents. Indeed, many suspect that authorities resort to manipulating and artificially inflating statistical rates of participation to combat this very issue, with Moroccan scholar and human rights activist Dr. Maati Monjib writing that “A majority of Morocco’s adult citizens…are still uninterested in electoral participation.”
It is noteworthy that the Democratic Way Party “Annahj Democraty”—a Moroccan leftist political party—and the Justice and Spirituality Organization (JSO), which is the biggest Islamic political faction in Morocco, have already announced that they are not participating in the elections. Both political factions were the main components of the February 20th Movement that led the Arab Spring of 2011 in Morocco, and they all agree that given the present constitution and political circumstances, elections are meaningless and will not provide change to Morocco. The JSO has not only announced its own boycott but has also explicitly called for all Moroccans to boycott as well.

Those who advocate the boycott believe that change comes from above, and that it is time for the regime to consider taking bold actions, making real changes, and reforming the political system. Corruption is like a chain hanging down from above and as long as the top remains corrupt, real reforms will never emerge at the bottom. The current campaign led by government officials, party leaders, official media, and Moroccan celebrities to bring out the Moroccan vote shows that the regime fears the power of the boycott and that the boycott option is a very strong way of protesting against the current political organism and expressing distrust in the current political institutions and procedures.

Salah eddine Salmi is a Moroccan journalist and translator.