Islamists in power suffer a historic setback

The Islamist PJD party, at the head of the Moroccan government for a decade, suffered a spectacular rout in the legislative elections, in favor of liberal parties considered close to the royal palace.

The Justice and Development Party (PJD, moderate Islamist) is collapsing, dropping from 125 seats in the outgoing assembly to 12, Interior Minister Abdelouafi Laftit said on Thursday after the election.

According to the provisional results, after counting 96% of the ballots, the PJD comes far behind its main rivals, the National Rally of Independents (RNI), the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM), both of liberal tendency, and the Party of Istiqlal (center right), with 97, 82 and 78 respectively (out of 395 deputies).

The RNI, which belongs to the governing coalition, is headed by a wealthy businessman, Aziz Akhannouch, described as close to the palace.

And the PAM, the main opposition party, was founded by the current royal advisor, Fouad Ali El Himma, in 2008 before he resigned in 2011.

The oldest party in Morocco, the Istiqlal (Independence) made a remarkable comeback with a gain of 32 seats.

The magnitude of the Islamists’ defeat is unexpected. Despite the lack of polls, media and analysts believed the PJD would still play the top spots.

Long camped in opposition, the PJD hoped to run for a third consecutive term at the head of government.

Participation on the rise

It will be up to King Mohammed VI to appoint a head of government, from the party that won the day and who will succeed the secretary general of the PJD, Saad-Eddine El Othmani.

The final results should be known in the next few hours.

The participation rate reached 50.35% nationally, according to the Minister of the Interior.

It had capped at 43% during the legislative elections of 2016 and at 53% during the last local elections in 2015.

But this is the first time that some 18 million voters have chosen their deputies on the same day as their municipal and regional representatives. Which reduced the abstention.

In 2011, Morocco adopted a new Constitution granting wide prerogatives to Parliament and the government. However, decisions in key sectors rest with the king.

Islamists have reported “serious irregularities” in this election, citing “the obscene distribution of money” near polling stations.

The voting operations took place “under normal circumstances”, assured Mr. Laftit.

“Admission of failure”

The end of the short electoral campaign, marked by the absence of major meetings because of Covid-19, had already been poisoned by accusations of buying votes.

A lively controversy has also opposed the PJD to the RNI.

The former head of government and former secretary general of the PJD Abdelilah Benkirane had fired red bullets on Aziz Akhannouch, judging that “an honest political figure” was needed at the head of the government.

Minister of Agriculture since 2007, Mr. Akhannouch retorted that criticism from Islamists was “an admission of failure”.

The minister, at the head of one of the largest fortunes in the country, has already played a key role in the previous government, controlling important portfolios such as Economy and Finance or Industry.

Thursday, he hailed “a victory for democracy” and “an explicit expression of the popular will for change”, in a post-election speech.

For his part, Abdelilah Benkirane called on Mr. El Othmani to resign.

“After learning of the painful defeat that our party has suffered, the party secretary general must take responsibility and submit his resignation,” he wrote Thursday in a letter posted on Facebook.

New reforms

It is the first time since the first elections in Morocco (1960) that the distribution of seats in the House of Representatives was calculated on the basis of the number of registered voters and not of voters.

This new method of calculation should favor small parties to the detriment of large parties. But only the PJD had opposed it, considering itself already “wronged”.

Electoral competition was characterized by the absence of a well-defined polarization on political choices.

After the election, political parties will be invited to adopt “a pact” resulting from a “new development model”, which foreshadows a “new generation of reforms and projects”, as Mohammed VI recently promised.

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