Morocco Elections 2021: Scenarios, Determinants, and Alliances

EPC | 07 Sep 2021

On September 8, 2021, the Moroccan legislative elections will be held to elect the occupants of 395 seats in the House of Representatives through a direct secret ballot. These elections are expected to result in a new government with a busy agenda. It will have to deal with many complex issues, domestic and regional. The significant adverse repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic on Morocco’s public health and the economy would be the biggest challenge. The country’s recurring spats with neighboring countries, Algeria and Spain, have also cast a shadow over the elections.

On the other hand, regional instability experienced by the Maghreb countries imposes a problematic reality on Morocco. The future of the political process seems ambiguous in Libya and Tunisia. Furthermore, successive changes in the leadership of Algeria’s military and security establishments and the persistent discontent among large segments of the Algerian youth suggest that the domestic situation there is still far from stable.

Before anticipating the Moroccan legislative elections’ outcome, it is necessary to review the basic features of the contest between political parties in Morocco. The map of the competing forces can then be analyzed to assess the most prominent issues that constitute significant determinants of those important elections.

The Contesting Parties in Morocco

Since independence in 1957, Morocco’s political process has moved through two phases. The first phase was characterized by a great deal of tension, including coup attempts to which the Royal Palace responded by narrowing the political space to a minimum. The second phase, beginning with the constitutional amendments of 1992, was characterized by a degree of political openness and the succession of different parties to the premiership. Since then, six legislative elections have been held, revealing a pattern and features of competition between parties that have become a tradition in Moroccan politics in recent years. The following are the most important features:

1. Cross-Ideological Alliances

 A striking feature of Morocco’s existing coalition at the level of governance and opposition is the ability of its political parties to adopt pragmatic approaches that go beyond traditional ideological differences. For instance, the ruling coalition led by the Justice and Development Party (JDP, PJD) includes leftist parties, such as the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP), and others affiliated with the Royal Palace, such as the National Rally of Independents (RNI). On the other hand, the opposition includes the Federation of the Democratic Left (FGD) and the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM), which is also close to the Palace. These parties have previously coordinated their efforts on several occasions.

2. Continuity of the Basic Alliance Rules

The general rules that have been established in Moroccan partisan practices, since political openness became the norm in the early 1990s, are still actively in place. Party alliances include the largest possible number of parties, exceeding six parties on some occasions. The role of the Palace is clear in government formation, as embodied by the prominent presence of technocrats in many ministries, including the premiership. The Driss Jettou government between 2002 and 2007 reflected this, and even the current government had six independent ministers, mainly the ministers of the interior, foreign affairs, and health.

3. Stability and Relative Weights

Apart from the variable related to the rise of the JDP and PAM in the last two electoral rounds, the party map in Morocco is witnessing a degree of stability. Several parties traditionally constitute the center of gravity of the party system, such as the Istiqlal (Independence) Party (PI), the Popular Movement (MP), the RNI, and the USFP. Since the early 1990s, those parties have been the main members of coalitions, each obtaining an acceptable percentage of seats and an average of 40 seats. This arithmetic ensures that the majority of these parties assume a significant position in any coalition government.

4. The Phenomenon of Party Divisions

The Moroccan parties in government and the opposition share the phenomenon of recurring internal splits and divisions, often for personal reasons among leaders of the same party. At present, the JDP suffers from unprecedented splits since it assumed the premiership in 2012, a phenomenon that recurs in the opposition PI and the FGD.

The Contenders Map

The map of the competing parties in the upcoming Moroccan elections can be laid down by distinguishing between the ruling coalition parties and the opposition parties, as follows:

1. The Ruling Coalition Parties

The JDP is the closest Moroccan party that toes the Muslim Brotherhood line. Established in 1998,  the JDP left the opposition in the 2011 elections after becoming a majority party by obtaining 107 seats. Its tally went up to 125 seats in the 2016 elections. Despite its relatively extended stay in power, the JDP has recently suffered from numerous internal splits on multiple issues. Abdelilah Benkirane, the seventh prime minister, announced the suspension of his activities in the party following a bill to legalize cannabis cultivation. Mustafa Ramid, the Minister of Human Rights, was the second man in the party to announce his resignation. [1]

The RNI is known for its proximity to the Royal Palace. It was founded in 1978 by Ahmed Osman, brother-in-law of the former King Hassan II. RNI is also an elite party that brings together business people and prominent officials in the state apparatus. Since the 1997 elections, the RNI has been a partner in all successive governments, except two of Abdelilah Benkirane governments, formed in the wake of the 2011 elections.

Among the ruling coalition members is the MP party, a traditional party representing the Berbers of the Rif region. Since its foundation, the party has adopted a pro-royal stance. It has also been participating continuously in government coalitions without interruption since the 1993 elections. Mohand Laenser, the MP Secretary-General, adopts a consensual approach in the electoral campaign, stressing the party’s line of refraining from politically employing the Amazigh cause as an established principle of the party. [2]

The USFP is the most prominent left party in the ruling coalition. Founded in 1975, this major leftist party fought a long struggle during the reign of former King Hassan II. It also played an active role in electoral practices and governance since the political openness in the early 1990s, when party leader Abderrahmane Youssoufi was entrusted with heading the government in 1998. The USFP has regularly participated in ruling coalitions since then, except the two Benkirane governments. Founded in 1983 by former prime minister Maati Bouabid, the Constitutional Union is with the ruling coalition. It remained in opposition for years before allying with the JDP following the 2016 elections.

2. The Opposition Parties

 The AMP is at the forefront of Morocc0’s list of opposition parties. Described as a “Palace Party,” it is one of the most important parties close to King Mohammed VI. It was founded in 2008 by Fouad Ali El Himma, the former minister of the interior and the King’s confidant. Since the 2011 elections, the AMP has been the most crucial Moroccan opposition party after it won 48 seats in the 2011 elections and raised the tally to 102 seats in the 2016 elections. Despite the long debates between the AMP and JDP, before the 2021 elections, a tactical rapprochement is taking place between them. A consultative meeting brought together the leaders of the two parties on July 24, 2021. The two parties agreed on protecting the integrity of the elections and prohibiting the use of electoral money but did not declare any electoral coordination. [3]

The PI is also one of the oldest parties in Morocco. It headed several successive coalitions from the government of Ahmed Balafrej in 1958 to the government of Abbas El-Fassi between 2007 and 2012. The PI was a partner in the JDP-headed coalition government after the 2011 elections before moving to the opposition after 2016. In the new elections, the party seeks to raise its share of seats to lead a coalition government again or remove the AMP, which has become the leading Moroccan opposition party in terms of the number of seats. However, what may hinder the PI is the internal crisis it witnessed in recent months between Nizar Baraka, the party’s Secretary-General, and Hamid Chabat, the former Secretary-General, which led to the latter joining the Front of Democratic Forces (FFD). [4]

Despite its alliance with the JDP between 2012 and 2019, the Party of Progress and Socialism (PPS), a left-wing party founded in 1974 by members of the Moroccan Communist Party, moved to the opposition benches. The party participated in all the ruling coalitions since 1998 but moved to the opposition in 2019 when the second Saadeddine Othmani government came to power. During the preparations for the new elections, in July 2021, an escalation of the dispute between Prime Minister Othmani and Mohamed Nabil Beabdallah, Secretary-General of the PPS, reduced the two parties’ prospects of joining forces again. [5]

The list of opposition parties includes several minor parties, including the Democratic and Social Movement (MDS), a right-wing party founded in 1997. MDS won two seats in the 2011 elections and three in the 2016 elections. The Federation of the Democratic Left (FGD), which was founded in 2014 as a coalition between the Socialist Democratic Vanguard Party (PADS) and the National Ittihadi Congress Party (CNI), also stands out, winning two seats in the 2016 elections. In July 2021, a crisis erupted within the FGD after Nabila Mounib, the Secretary-General of the Unified Socialist Party (GSU), announced the end of her party’s association with the FGD, which over 100 prominent party members rejected. [6]

Determinants of the 2021 Legislative Election Results

Three developments preceding the Moroccan legislative elections could determine the results of those elections and the nature of its next government. These determinants are the following:

1. Amendments of the Electoral Law

The Moroccan electoral system is based on dividing the country into 92 electoral districts with 305 seats. The number of seats for each would be determined according to the population size, ranging between two and six seats. The proportional list system elects holders of the seats in each electoral district. In addition, there are 90 seats whose occupants are determined by competition between national lists, each of which includes 60 women and 30 male youth under the age of 40.

In March 2021, the House of Representatives approved amendments to the electoral law. This amendment would significantly increase the value of the electoral divisor, which would make the majority of parties unable to reach it. Thus, the parties receiving the highest number of votes would share the district seats regardless of the differences in the voting volume for each of them. [7]

While most of the Moroccan parties in the ruling coalition and the opposition welcomed the amendments, they received widespread criticism from the JDP. The party said that the amendments were aimed at curtailing it, especially considering the traditionally low levels of participation in the Moroccan elections, which do not exceed 50 percent of the total registered voters. [8]

2. The Professional Chamber

Morocco is witnessing a vital role for professionals and labor unions and political parties compete with full force on these platforms due to the former’s immense political influence. One month before the legislative elections, professional chamber elections were held in Morocco, in which more than 12,000 candidates from various political parties contested for 2,230 seats. These elections revealed critical indicators, most notably the leadership of the RNI, which obtained 600 seats, followed by the opposition parties PAM with 363 seats, and PI with 360 seats. Among the most important result was that the JDP ranking eighth with 49 seats after it had won 147 seats in the last elections of 2015. [9]

3. The New Development Model and Reducing ​​Discrepancies in Party Programs

The ​​differences and disparities between the programs of the different political parties are increasingly diminishing in Morocco. This is mainly due to the commitment of those parties to the main directions established by King Mohammed VI. In May 2021, the Moroccan King received the former minister of the interior, Chakib Benmoussa, the head of the committee charged with preparing the new development model. The model laid out a comprehensive, multi-dimensional approach to achieve the community development project in Morocco with particular attention to addressing the repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic. It set the year 2035 as a time horizon to achieve a set of development goals with digital indicators, such as raising the per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to US$ 16,000 annually and raising the number of exporting companies to 12,000. [10] Immediately after the announcement, political parties competed in declaring support for the model and their commitment to its objectives. The ruling JDP considered this model derived from the party documents it submitted to the committee for the congruence of its vision with the new reference document. [11]

Possible Scenarios

Three main scenarios can be expected from the Moroccan elections:

1. Postponement of the Legislative Elections

Like countries around the world, Morocco is suffering from the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic with significant health, social, and economic repercussions. On August 3, 2021, the Moroccan prime minister confirmed the postponement of elections due to the possibility of a rising number of infections. [12] However, Interior Minister Abdelouafi Laftit announced that the elections would be held on time, under royal directives. [13] While the chances of election postponement have diminished strongly since this statement, the possibility still exists in the event of a notable rise in the number of infections.

2. A Comprehensive Alliance with the JDP

As a result of the amendments made to electoral laws, no party is expected to exceed 100 seats, including the JDP. It is also expected that the new laws will increase the number of parties represented in Parliament and a decrease in each party’s seat share. Accordingly, the JDP will need to build a broad coalition to ensure its continued role as a leader or participant. Early indications of the JDP’s openness to such perceptions emerged after the meeting that brought together its party’s leaders with the leaders of the PAM.

3. Exchange of Positions

In light of the changing political context and legal framework, these elections could result in a power transfer. PAM and PI could lead efforts to form a new coalition without the JDP, which will return once again to the opposition ranks it occupied before 2012. The chances of this scenario are reinforced by RNI’s good performance in the professional chamber elections. This result may pave the way for the three parties to form the nucleus of the new government. This would not face a major obstacle given that each party is traditionally associated with the Palace.

The likely scenario is the second one, i.e., building an expanded coalition, given that it has the greatest opportunities for realization on the ground. Several indicators support it, the most important being the difficulty of the JDP’s exit from the scene or its sudden major defeat in the parliamentary elections. The party’s early openness to PAM, the most important opposition party in recent years, and the growing internal and external challenges, namely the persistence of the pandemic and its severe economic repercussions, tensions with Algeria and the neighboring European countries, and the growth of terrorism in West Africa, will all contribute toward creating a general “consensual” trend building an appropriate climate for the realization of this scenario.

Conclusion

The legislative elections are a major event that will determine the main features of the future Moroccan government in terms of composition and policies for the next five years. The outcome of the electoral process is expected to produce a strong and homogeneous government that can reduce the polarization that Morocco has witnessed since the JDP came to power in 2011, which may have positive repercussions at the level of the entire region.

Sources

[1] Hamza al-Muti, Differences gnaw the Moroccan “Justice and Development”: the second man in the party resigns, al-ain news, June 13, 2021: https://al-ain.com/article/pjd-morocco-mustapha-ramid

[2] Moroccan politician: The party that leads in the elections will not exceed 80 parliamentary seats, Asharq al-Awsat, May 8, 2021: https://bit.ly/3mv7BIZ; Laenser: We forbade ourselves from using the Amazighism as a political cause, Elaph, July 13, 2021: https://elaph.com/Web/News/2021/07/1446470.html

[3] Morocco: A meeting between “Justice and Development” and “Authenticity and Modernity” indicates a rapprochement ahead of the elections, Asharq al-Awsat, July 26, 2021: https://bit.ly/2XNOQGi

[4] Hamid Chabat: I buried the past of the Independence Party, hespress, August 11, 2021: https://bit.ly/3mwTtP4

[5] The “cord of friendship” breaks between the PJD and “Progress and Socialism” ahead of the 2021 elections, hespress, July 19, 2021: https://bit.ly/3sGc0Kb

[6] Fouad el-Yamani, 101 members of the GSU Parliament turn the tables on Munib by refusing to withdraw from the FGD, Assaharaa, July 7, 2021: https://assahraa.ma/web/2021/156019

[7] The most prominent of these included the abolition of the requirement for any party to obtain 3 percent of the valid votes of the electorate in order to be entitled to participate in the constituency seat-sharing process, in addition to amending the method of calculating the electoral divisor specified for each party’s share of the seats, to be calculated by dividing the number of registered voters in each constituency by the number of seats allocated to it, after it used to be calculated by dividing the number of valid votes by the number of seats in the constituency. See: Driss Lagrini, The importance of the electoral divisor in Morocco, Al-Khaleej, April 3, 2021: https://bit.ly/3klnUFc

[8] Abdel Momen Moussa, Morocco: The JDP disagrees with all on the “electoral divisor,” Sky News Arabia, March 27, 2021: https://bit.ly/3kyZLLR

[9] A month before the elections: the defeat of the Moroccan Brotherhood in the professional chambers, Alarabiya, August 7, 2021: https://bit.ly/2Wkrg2X

[10] Hamza al-Muti, The new development model in Morocco: figures and ambitions, al-ain news, May 27, 2021: https://al-ain.com/article/morocco-numbers-human-wealth-natural-resources

[11] Abdelmadjid Sahnoun, Did the report of the Development Model Committee reflect what was stated in the memorandum of the Justice and Development Party? the Justice and Development Party, June 13, 2021: http://www.pjd.ma/node/79909

[12] The Prime Minister of Morocco indicates the possibility of postponing the elections due to the epidemic, Alarabiya, August 3, 2021: https://bit.ly/3j7z69k

[13] Hamza al-Muti, Morocco resolves the controversy and confirms: the elections will be held on time, al-ain news, August 7, 2021: https://bit.ly/3B8MOyC

 

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