Moroccans were called to the polls on September 8, to vote for the 395 deputies who make up the House of Representatives. For the first time in the country’s history, the legislative elections were held at the same time as the cantonal and municipal elections, as a way for the regime to fight nonparticipation which had reached almost 60 percent of voters in 2016.
The turnout was estimated at 50.35 percent nationally, with a strong mobilization of the countryside in contrast to urban areas being relatively abstentionist. The months leading up to the election were marked by health restrictions, which forced parties to conduct short and mostly online campaigns, due to the ban on gatherings of more than 25 people. These were also the first elections since the electoral law was overhauled, with changes aimed at increasing the representation of women, regions, and small parties.
The Justice and Development Party (PJD) – in power since 2011 – collapsed and lost 90 percent of its seats, from 125 to 12 MPs, and ranked at fourth place. The National Rally of Independents (RNI) and the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) – both liberal and close to the Palace – won the most seats, with 102 and 87 MPs respectively. They were followed by the Istiqlal Party, a nationalist bloc created after Morocco gained independence in 1956, which won 81 seats.
The Defeat of the Justice and Development Party
If the defeat of the Islamist PJD was foreseen by most observers, the extent of it has caused surprise.
“The party must rebuild and restructure itself, since internal divisions undermine it and have caused a loss of confidence in [its] electorate,” Salaheddine Bakkour, a Moroccan activist and businessman, told Inside Arabia. Indeed, the political orientations of the party, modeled on those of the Monarchy, have disappointed its constituency. The PJD came to power in 2011 as an opposition party. It has since been co-opted by the Monarchy, to the point of endorsing reforms it initially opposed.
“For an Islamist party, committed to the Palestinian cause, the normalization of relations with Israel was a severe blow.”
“For an Islamist party, committed to the Palestinian cause, the normalization of relations with Israel was a severe blow,” Abdellah Eid told Inside Arabia. Eid was a candidate in the municipal elections for the PAM party and Campaign Director for the legislative elections. “The former Prime Minister [and leader of the party] is a person with little charisma, who does not communicate and has made far too many concessions,” he added.
The PJD seems to have played the role of scapegoat for the implementation of difficult reforms, such as the reduction in the number of civil servants and the dismantling of subsidies for basic products. This eventually sapped the Islamist bloc’s popular base, while also leaving its leadership weakened and divided. However, even at the height of its power, the Justice and Development party did not have control over the “Ministries of Sovereignty” (Foreign Affairs, Interior, and Defense), whose Ministers are appointed directly by the King, which limited the party’s effective room for maneuver.
In addition, the party suffered from the new electoral law, which favors small parties by including a number of seats for each region. Votes are now counted based on all those registered to vote, not on actual votes. The practice disadvantages parties with a strong electoral base, such as the Justice and Development party, which had strongly opposed the new electoral law, considering the bill to be against its interests.
Youth and Women at the Center of the Elections
Legislative and municipal elections were marked by a strong mobilization of young people.
“Youth made the change in the 2021 elections,” said Salaheddine Bakkour, who worked on several initiatives to motivate young people to participate in the political process. “Traditionally, young people in Morocco [have not been] interested in politics; they feel that they have little influence,” Bakkour told Inside Arabia.
In fact, several young people are present in the leadership of the two winning parties, as well as in the electoral lists themselves.
Several young people are present in the leadership of the two winning parties, as well as in the electoral lists themselves.
“The national bureau of the Authenticity and Modernity party is composed at 50 percent of young people; it is a liberal and progressive party, that is what led me to join it,” said Abdallah Eid, who asserted that political parties had to take the demographics into account during these elections.
“Our campaign was mainly digital, with a strong presence on social networks, promotional videos, [and] sponsored posts. So, the content was mainly targeted at young people,” he added. This was also the case with the National Rally of Independents, whose trilingual and digital campaign attracted a large part of the urban youth.
Furthermore, women played an important role in the elections, as the electoral quota grants them 90 seats out of 395, as well as first and second place in the lists.
“These elections are an achievement for women’s political representation,” Afaf Sebbar, a student of international relations, told Inside Arabia. “The candidate who won in my constituency in Casablanca is a young [female] lawyer,” she added. Sebbar believes that the two leading parties – the RNI and PAM—have qualified themselves as progressive forces.
Allegations of Vote Buying
Since the Parliament is not the center of gravity of Moroccan politics, which is largely in the hands of the Monarchy, election campaigns are traditionally marked by a lack of real distinction between the parties.
“When you look at the promises of the different parties, you realize that they are relatively similar,” Younès, a Moroccan activist and student of European law at the University of Lille, told Inside Arabia. “There is no party with a clear ideology and values.”
Before the elections, the King said that the parties would be asked to adopt a “pact” based on a new “development model” defined in advance by the Monarchy. Political parties have thus mainly debated around sectoral and technical issues, such as social security benefits, public-private partnerships in education, and access to credit for small and mid-size enterprises (SMEs).
However, some managed to stand out, such as the Istiqlal party and its “green vision,” which helped it win 81 seats. But overall, candidates relied primarily on their personal reputations and campaign networks to convince voters, rather than on proposing any tangible agenda.
While the elections were perceived by many international observers to have been conducted in a transparent, free, and fair way, several incidents of corruption were identified by the political parties themselves.
“All parties recognized the validity of the elections,” said Abdellah Eid, who seemed to moderate his remarks. “There were nevertheless some isolated cases of candidates who bought votes. We try to limit the intervention of the world of money as much as possible.”
The political bureau of the United Socialist Party has denounced attempts to buy votes during the elections, stating that it witnessed such tactics particularly in poor and marginalized neighborhoods.
As for the PJD, it has alleged that “massive violations” occurred on election day, claiming that members of their section in Berrechid, a town in the region of Casablanca, were sabotaged and that the equipment in their office was intentionally damaged.
The Istiqlal party joined in the criticism, accusing local authorities in Guelmin-Oued Noun in the south of attacking their candidate and failing to hand over polling station reports to party representatives.
A Likely Coalition Between the Leading Parties
A former Minister of Agriculture, Aziz Akhannouch is President of the leading National Rally of Independents (RNI) and also the country’s first private fortune. He has been invited by the King to form a government, as the constitution – born in the wake of the Arab Spring – requires the King to choose the Prime Minister from the party that comes out on top in the legislative elections.
“There is a very good synergy between the two parties [RNI and PAM], even if they have different visions for the country.”
According to Salaheddine Bakour, it is very likely that a coalition will soon be formed between the RNI and the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM), who came in second place in the polls. “There is a very good synergy between the two parties, even if they have different visions for the country,” he said.
During the previous elections in 2016, the deadlock in the formation of the government lasted more than six months, until the resignation of the Secretary General of the PJD, Abdellah Benkirane, and his replacement by Saad el Othmani. Yet, as negotiations are already taking place to achieve a common government program, political observers are hoping for the creation of a swifter coalition this time around.