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In Morocco, the Islamist party at the head of the government since 2011 is playing its future

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In Morocco, the Islamist party at the head of the government since 2011 is playing its future

Moroccans are called to the polls on Wednesday, September 8, on the occasion of a triple ballot – legislative, municipal and regional – whose main stake is the political future of the Justice and Development Party (PJD, Islamist). The latter had headed the government since 2011 through coalitions, however tightly controlled by King Mohammed VI. The electoral campaign in Morocco was particularly lackluster due to the constraints imposed by the anti-Covid fight and the disaffection of part of the electorate with the political class, raising fears of a high abstention.

This electoral meeting takes place in a sensitive regional environment dominated by the breakdown of diplomatic relations with Algeria, and strained relations with certain European countries (in particular Spain and Germany) around the Western Sahara issue. It is also part of an internal context marked by a security turning point for the regime, as illustrated by the multiple lawsuits filed over the past two years against critical journalists and intellectuals.

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The PJD had obtained the prime minister’s office (the post of prime minister) at the end of the ballot at the end of 2011, held in the wake of the “February 20 Movement”, the Moroccan version of the “Arab Spring” that the monarchy had managed to achieve. channel through a liberal-inspired constitutional review. Five years later, it maintained its status as the first party of the kingdom without obtaining an absolute majority, therefore forced to once again negotiate a coalition with the formations supported by the palace.

The forced departure in 2017 of Abdelilah Benkirane, charismatic leader of the PJD renewed at the head of the government but unable to train his team due to the demands expressed by one of the partners of this coalition, had illustrated the narrowness of the margin of maneuver of the Islamist party in the face of the limits imposed by Mohammed VI.

Concessions

Under these conditions, his replacement, Saad-Eddine Al-Othmani, a more conciliatory figure, had to accept many concessions, the most bitter – for the electorate of the PJD – was the normalization, in December 2020, of relations with Israel, the Morocco thus becoming the fourth Arab country (after the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan) to recognize that year the Hebrew State. Before leaving the White House, Donald Trump obtained this gesture from Rabat in exchange for the American recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara.

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Another “snake” that the PJD had to swallow: the adoption in 2019 of a law strengthening the place of French in public education, especially in scientific subjects, in contrast to old Arabization policies. Deprived of sovereign ministries, entrusted to relatives of the king, the party has never been able to really influence the strategic orientations of the government.

The management of the Covid-19 crisis has clearly shown. The conductor was the Minister of Finance, Mohamed Benchaaboun, a figure of the new generation of technocrats that the king seeks to promote, more than Prime Minister Al-Othmani himself. “The head of government may have shown loyalty, the king does not seem to have confidence in him, notes Thierry Desrues, researcher at the Institute for Advanced Social Studies in Cordoba, Spain. Its policy is to keep the PJD at a distance, certain currents of which can disseminate an autonomous and non-conformist discourse vis-à-vis the Makhzen [palais] .

Disenchantment

The PJD should therefore suffer from the disenchantment of a section of its electorate, even if it retains a historical base inherited from an old rootedness, especially in the cities. The expected decline in its influence could be facilitated by a new calculation of the electoral quotient (now related to the number of registered voters and no longer of voters) which should fragment the political landscape and therefore put its weight into perspective.

“The electoral quotient aims to accentuate the balkanization of the electoral scene, underlines Mounia Bennani-Chraïbi, professor of political science at the University of Lausanne. Everything is done to hinder again and again the expression of an electoral legitimacy which could compete with the legitimacy of the monarchy. “

The PJD could thus find itself neck and neck with three other formations: the National Rally of Independents (RNI) and the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) – two parties close to the palace – as well as the Istiqlal Party ( PI), heir to the “national movement” engaged in the struggle for independence. Party of notables, the RNI, led by businessman Aziz Akhannouch, the kingdom’s first private fortune according to the magazine Forbes, seems to be the king’s favorite in the ritual exercise aimed at putting an alternative to the PJD into orbit.

The WFP had failed to play this role during the 2016 elections, which led to the rehabilitation in the eyes of the palace of an RNI remobilized by Mr. Akhannouch with generous financial means. The latter have also aroused acrimonious remarks from his rivals, the number one of the PAM, Abdellatif Ouahbi, accusing the RNI of“Flood the political scene with money .

The announced fragmentation of the political landscape between these four formations should strengthen the palace’s arbitration capacity during negotiations around a future government coalition. Technocrats pampered by the king, such as Mohamed Benchaaboun, could play a central role.

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