September 08, 2007
Morocco's elections: Money, personalisation of politics and public disaffection
The fragmentation of the Moroccan political scene, which has been ongoing since a quarter of a century, isn't only manifest in the number of parties participating in electoral politics - 33 in 2007. The personalisation of party politics, the largely interchangeable nature of party affiliation and the widespread use of money - not only vis-à-vis the voters, but also in the internal nominating process within parties - all these elements weaken the political and ideological significance of Moroccan elections. The régime is thus caught in a paradox: while the feebleness of the partisan scene, which it has encouraged, is of course fully intentional, too weak a partisan and parliamentarian scene will only serve to discredit the régime's democratic discourse, vital if it is to continue to gain the political , diplomatic and economic support it so sorely needs from its Western sponsors (the Arab sponsors of the régime, being mainly Saudi Arabia and the UAE, couldn't bother less, of course).
This is of course nothing specific to Morocco, but the personalisation of politics goes very far. Most voters, even in the new proportional voting system, vote for individuals - the candidate's regional or ethnic origins, his education, his profession, even his family name (I regret to admit that I systematically scour the lists of candidates to see if some are of my rather well-established Fassi (1) family) are determinant, much less so his - or her, as there are more and more female canddiates, even outside the so-called national list de facto reserved for them (2) - political leanings.
An opinion poll commissionned by the ministry of the interior and partially published - a première in Morocco as such polls were usually held behind wraps - revealed the main factors voters consider when making their voting decision: the candidate's reputation is by far the most important factor (70% of the poll respondents indicated this as an important factor), with his/her programme being important in the eyes of 54% of the respondents, ahead of his/her personality (41%), his/her record (29%) and his/her tribal origins (also 29%) (3). The candidate's political affiliation comes only thereafter, considered as important by only 23% of the respondents.
One factor that wasn't mentioned is money or other in natura hand-outs - vote-buying in Morocco usually takes place as a combination of cash payments and/or free hand-outs of flour, sugar, olive oil or other commodities. By August 31, the ministry of justice announced that 74 cases of vote-buying had been acted upon. In a spectacular case, six vote-sellers have been caught red-handed after having been set-up by a PPS candidate of whom they had asked 200.000 dirhams (18.000 euros) to ensure his election.
Although there is a legal framework for public financing of electoral campaigns, money really is the nerve of the electoral campaign, in Morocco as anywhere else. Parties will struggle to enlist rich businessmen or landlords as candidates, knowing that they will, in that case, not have to finance that specific campaign in that specific constituency. It is therefore not surprising that all parties, except perhaps left-wing PSU and PADS, have drawn businessmen to head some of their lists.
One of the most well-known Moroccan businessmen, an American style self-made man, very pious but also very succesful, Miloud Chaabi, has chosen the PPS and leads their list in Essaouira, where his daughter, Asmaa Chaabi, also on his list, is mayor. His son, mayor of a Rabat, leads the PPS list in Kenitra, where the Chaabi family has long resided. This serves to underline the lack of ideological discipline or coherence in most Moroccan parties, PJD, PADS and PSU excepted. Miloud Chaabi, owner of Ynna Holding, has been so successful as to try to challenge the King's own group, the ONA - he called publicly for the King to divest from the ONA, something even the left (PADS and PSU) have been careful not to call for. As for the PPS, formerly communist but nowadays mostly distinguished by its fierce denunciation of anything that smacks of islamism, and who's been part of government since 1998, currently holding, in the person of Nabil Benabdallah, the post of minister of communication and governement spokesman, its embrace of Chaabi is clearly motivated by the need to have a generous candidate, more or less assured of winning his seat without having to draw from the party's finances.
If rich candidates are popular with the parties, so are tribal leaders. One good example of that is given by the constituency of Laayoune, Sahara's largest town, a region where tribal ties are predominant, be it on the Moroccan side or within the Polisario separatists. The Istiqlal party put its hook into Hamdi Ould Rachid, brother to Morocco's most influential Sahrawi, Khalil Henna Ould Rachid, member of the powerful Reguibat tribe, favored both by the King and by the Polisario leadership. His main opponent will be Laayoune's strongman and mayor, Hassan Derham - member of the Aït Ba Amrane tribe and supported by the influent Izerguiyine tribe - under the colors of the USFP, after having been elected under those of the RNI and the MP. Tribal affiliation and ethnicity will determine the outcome of that election - and most other electoral competitions in the Sahara - in a way only marginally different from other constituencies.
In other cases, family ties will have an influence on the electoral outcome. Take the constituency of Bni Hssein in Kenitra province: Abdelouahad Radi, the local strongman, a prosperous landlord, Speaker of the Chamber of Representatives, who's been elected for the formerly socialist USFP since Morocco's first parliamentary elections in 1963 (!) and whose political proeminence in the rural parts of his constituency is nearly unassailable, has met with some unepected challenge. His challenger, Abdelouahad Bennani, who heads the islamist PJD list, happens to be Queen Lalla Salma's uncle. His standing with local voters, as a man close to the makhzen, might countervail Radi's long-standing dominance in the region, a dominance based on his capacity to exert patronage.
All in all, with party affiliation and ideological outlook being of subordinate importance, it is not surprising that Morocco's political and parliamentary scene is so difficult to apprehend, with alliances being based not on ideology or programmes but on tactical and personal gain - keeping ministerial posts, with all the patronage that goes with them (and not so much as a means to implement a programme), is the life mission of formerly leftist parties such as the USFP and the PPS, the leadership of which believe that they've suffered in opposition far too long already. I've already mentioned the case of Sahrawi strongman Hassan Derham, who's been elected successively under three different party colors. Even the very pious millionnaire Miloud Chaabi has gone to and fro between the nationalist and conservative Istiqlal party and formerly communist and secular PPS, after having pondered joining islamist PJD. Then you have the case of Ahmed Zarouf, a former colonel of the Gendarmerie royale (Al Darak al maliki) who was allegedly involved in the violent clampdown of the June 1981 Casablanca riots, an allegation he hotly denies. He went from the MDS (led by infamous torturer and former police officer Mahmoud Archane) to the extreme-left OADP, then on to rural, predominantly Berber and arch-royalist MP, and now to the PPS, before being convicted in a vote-buying case during last year's elections to the indirectly elected Chamber of Councillors...
Under these conditions, a turnout rate of 41% isn't that bad...
PS: My apologies to all those of you who don't read French or Arabic. Most information about Morocco is in French, with quite a few sources in Arabic as well. There's simply too little material in English for me to link systematicaly and exclusively to such sources. Sorry!
(1) To quote from Paul Bowles, who has a partially correct grasp of the fassi attitude (I would qualify the bit about isolationism, since the Fassi élite is probably the most westernised segment of the Moroccan population) : "The Fassi is a metropolitan, bourgeois in his habits and isolationist in attitude; he also has the reputation of being a hard man to beat in a business deal, which makes him not entirely popular with his compatriots. There is no doubt that he has an element of arrogance in his character". Btw, Fassi means "from Fez".
(2) In order to boost Morocco's previous shameful record of female representation in Parliament (if memory serves, the first two female representatives were elected in 1992, one, Fatima El Moudden, for the USFP, and the other, Latifa Bennani Smirés for the Istiqlal party), with only a couple or so of female parliamentarians elected in 1997, the authorities decided, when introducing proportional representation in 2002, to create a national list reserved for women. It is interesting to note that nothing in the electoral laws applicable states this explicitly - the female-only national list is thus the result of a consensus among the parties, but legally nothing could prevent them from filing male candidates on the national list.
(3) One recent and shocking case of tribalism has occurred in the south-east rural constituency of Ouarzazate, where the USFP (centrist, formerly socialist) candidate accuses the UC (royalist) candidate of inciting voters to vote for the candidate having the same skin colour as they have. Presumably, one of them is a so-called hartani, a black Berber- or Arab-speaking minority, with voters being called to act according to racial categories.
Posted by Ibn Kafka at September 8, 2007 11:10 AM
Filed Under: North Africa
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Very nice note. But a word. We only abuse our readers at Aqoul, not apologise to any monolingual gits who can't keep up. Or that's my standard at least.
Not sure the Haratine item is a case of tribalism as it strikes me as more modern ethnic politics.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at September 8, 2007 11:50 AM
Well, I heard on the Arab Sats that the figures were revised down to 37% and Istiqlal is numero uno.
Hmmm, well I have to revise my views. 37% is an embarrassment, and Istiqlal....
Well beating PJD I have a hard time crediting. I guess they spent their money well (ahem).
Posted by: The Lounsbury at September 8, 2007 04:51 PM
About the haratine, I suppose there's a fine line between ethnicity and tribal affiliation. Tribal rivalry may for example be interpreted as ethnic rivalry if an arabophone tribe is pitted against a berberophone one. And I suppose that some of those mobilising voters against a hartani candidate would have a skin-color closer to that of the hartani than that of your average fassi...
Indeed, the ministry of interior has revised its turnout figures downwards. And as for the success of the Istiqlal, well, they are probably the best organised - or the least badly organised - party in Morocco, present absolutely everywhere and with a passe-partout blend of islam, nationalism, royalism and technocratic competence. I just met a friend today, who used to be a heavy clubber and drinker before he went muslim less than a year ago, who dresses like a Californian surfer, talks like a Parisian and who voted Istiqlal only because he ehimself is from a very well-known fassi family...
Posted by: Ibn Kafka at September 8, 2007 05:38 PM