September 11, 2007
The Moroccan elections - a victory for makhzeno-khobzism...
As most readers will know by now, Morocco's by far largest party is that of the abstentionists, who, with 63% of registered voters, won a landslide victory. Of the remaining 37% who bothered to vote, a sizeable amount voted blank - around 25% in Meknès and Fez, for example. Of those who cast a valid ballot, it would appear that the supposedly nationalist Istiqlal party won less than a fifth of the votes, slightly ahead of the mdoerate islamist PJD. Of course, besides being a blow to the governmental aspirations of the PJD, which seemed reasonable prior to the elections, this outcome means that the King will have even more of a free rein than previously - plus ça change, moins ça change...
For Morocco's democratisation process, this is a serious setback - and it is arguably a false victory on the longer term for the "executive monarchy" (1) favored by the King and his advisers...
It is always easy to forget that Moroccan elections, more than elections elsewhere, are less about party affiliation than about personalities, family or tribal ties, regional origin, professional capacity or economic resources. This is why the published results of Friday's elections, which contain only the names (2) of the elected members of the Chamber of Representatives (3), will not give even the seasoned analyst much material to pore over, apart from noting that the formerly socialist USFP - part of government since 1998 - suffered a severe setback, sliding from first position in Parliament in 2002 to fifth position in terms of seats won and losing twelve seats (38 now against 50 then) (4), and from the very modest gains by the islamist PJD, which won only 46 seats (as opposed to 42 seats in 2002 and 9 in 1997), when they had expected to gain between 70 and 110 seats.
It is therefore more than ever difficult to draw general conclusions from the list of elected members on the local lists (5). Take for example the case of formerly communist PPS, which has profiled itself in being one of the most vocal anti-islamist force in Moroccan politics - competition is fierce with part of the USFP and some sections of the Palace-friendly press on that count. As noted in a previous post, it didn't hinder that party from setting itself up as a branch of the pious - and rich - Chaabi family. The father, Miloud Chaabi, was re-elected in the Essaouira constituency, where his daughter Asmaa Chaabi, mayor of Essaouira, was beaten. His son Faouzi was elected in the Rabat-Chellah constituency.That party, with its profile and history of ties with Morocco' largest trade-union, the UMT, would otherwise have been counted upon to score big in large urban areas, either with the francophone middle- and upper-class, often fiercely opposed to islamists in general and the PJD in particular, or remnants of unionised working-class. Nothing of the sort, actually: it has won a majority - 10 - of its 17 seats in rural or semi-rural areas (Khémisset-Oulmés, Tifelt-Rommani, Chichaoua, El Gharb, Al Haouz, Benslimane, Ouezzane-HadKourt-Jorf el Melha , Ifrane, Karia-Gafsai, Moulay Yacoub), with only three seats won in urban constituencies (Essaouira, Rabat-Chellah, Fès-Chamalia), the remaining 4 seats being on the national, women-only list.
At the other extreme of the political specter, take a look at the Mouvement populaire (Haraka ach-chaabia - MP), a party which lazy journalists often describe as Berberist. Its leadership is Berber indeed, mainly from the Atlas region - nonagerian Mahjoubi Aherdane, founder of the party, former caïd of Oulmès, and Mohand Laenser, elected in Boulemane. Many of its candidates and members of parliament are however Arab, and some are even Fassi (i.e. from Fez), often viewed as arrogant, elitist and patronising towards the rest of Morocco, and especially the Berbers. The MP was indeed created at the end of the 50's, when the nationalist Istiqlal party - still commonly regarded as the party of the Fassi élite - was viewed by the Palace as a dangerous rival that needed to be contained. Based initially on local tribal leaders or so-called "agents d'autorité" (such as the caïd, the cheikh, the mqadem or the bacha), the MP very quickly gained ground in the cities - without any sociological link to their initial profile, rural and Berber. For example, Morocco's capital city, Rabat, has a MP mayor (Omar Bahraoui) and the MP won 2 of the 7 seats up for grabs there, ahead of the USFP, who have historically considered Rabat as a stronghold. In Rabat's populous northern suburb of Salé, the MP, which also holds the mayorship, won 2 out of 7 seats. It has four times more seats in the four Rabat-Salé constituencies than the USFP (1 seat) or the nationalist Istiqlal party (none) put together, contrary to what conventional wisdom would indicate, both the USFP and the Istiqlal being considered as urban parties. An even more striking observation could be made: Rabat and Salé are part of the Rabat-Salé-Zemmour-Zaër wilaya, which contains two rural or semi-rural constituencies, Khémisset-Oulmés and Tiflet-Rommani: surprise, surpise, the MP won none of the 6 seats to be allotted there, whereas the USFP won 2, and the Istiqlal party 1 seat...
One note on the USFP's abysmal results in the Casablanca wilaya - one of its former strongholds, even under the années de plomb. Out of the 31 seats up for grabs there, the USFP only clinched 2, while the presumably rural and Berber MP won 5 and the PJD 7. Of the USFP's 38 seats, 24 were won in rural constituencies, presumably by local notabilities. Those who, like the PSU's Mohamed Sassi, have accused the formerly socialist USFP of becoming an administrative party, favored by and subservient to the administration, and composed mainly of local notabilites, are probably on the right track.
Electoral sociology as it is normally understood in Western democracies is therefore impossible to apply in full in Morocco, where electoral choices are less and less responsive to generalisations about class, income level, education level, residence, etc as explaining factors of the voting decision. This situation is both a cause and a result of the balkanisation of the Moroccan political scene. A result, because the long story of electoral manipulation and of interference in the internal life of political parties by the interior ministry has produced a bewilderingly unreadable political map - 32 parties participated, 23 won a seat inthe Chamber of Representatives, most of them without a clear-cut ideological profile apart from the mandatory support for the Commander of the Faithful. A cause, since the voters' lack of partisan or ideological identification makes vote-buying or clientelism much more effective.
Pretending to decypher the poltical message sent by voters and abstentionists alike is therefore exceedingly difficult, apart from the obvious distrust in the current political system displayed by 63% of the registered electorate. For example, if one were to take at face value the results from Friday's vote, it would mean that a majority of voters are fully pleased with the outgoing government - the parties that are in the ruling coalition won 187 seats, 60% of those at stake. If we add to that number the seats won by parties of a distinct makhzeno-khobzist (6) ideology, such as the UC (Union constitutionnelle - Ittihad ad-doustouri, created in 1984 on the initiative of the ministry of the interior) and a raft of smaller parties, about 80% of the seats are held by parties part of the incumbent government or subservient to the Palace. The seats held by the PJD (46), the left-wing coalition (PSU, CNI and PADS - 6) and two recent left-of-center parties, the PT (Parti travailliste - Hizb al amali - 5 seats) and the PS (Parti socialiste - Hizb al ichtiraki - 2 seats) - that is to say party in effective opposition to the current government - amount to barely 20% of the seats. This makes no sense if you persist to see elections as a partisan and political choice - the number of Moroccans dissatisfied with government policies is certainly closer to 80% than to 20% - but it is perfectly coherent if you see the elections as game played by and for the benefit of local élites, and where the voters' preferences are expressed on the basis of personal, familial, tribal or regional ties - when they are not bought outright by the candidates.
To be continued.
(1) "After rising to the throne in 1999, the present king Mohammed VI tried to give the system an aura of modernity and democratic respectability by defining it as an “executive constitutional monarchy,” a clever label that obfuscates the fact that the constitution in no way limits the power of the “executive” monarchy", in "Morocco: From Top-down Reform to Democratic Transition?", by Marina Ottaway and Meredith Riley.
(2) Last time, in 2002, it took about a year before the detailed results, including the number of votes received by each party in each constituency, were published - and they were not published by the authorities but by a private publishing company - transparence à la marocaine...
(3) The Chamber of Councillors is the other chamber of Morocco's bicameral parliament, but its members are elected indirectly, by local council members, members of trade chambers and representatives of works councils.
(4) The 2002 elections were furthermore a setback as compared to the 1997 elections, when the USFP had won 57 seats.
(5) Out of the directly elected 325 members of the Chamber of Representatives, 295 are elected on local lists competeing in constituencies of between 2 and 4 seats, while 30 are elected on a national list - de facto - but not de jure - reserved for women.
(6) Makhzen is the traditional Moroccan designation of the Palace and its traditional (and nowadays modern) instruments of power: the agents d'autorité (bacha, caïd, cheikh, mqadem - still in place in 2007), army, the security services, the judiciary, etc... Khobz means bread in Arabic.The conjunction makhzeno-khobzist thus designates those political parties which are subservient to the Palace and who mainly aim at attaining personal advantages for their leadership.
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What I find interesting is the tantrums in the Moroccan press that the elections are attracting such criticism. l'Economiste's retarded editorial being the prime example.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at September 12, 2007 07:54 PM
L'Economiste's editorials are sometimes farcical (the rest of the paper is OK though) - did you read the one one week or so ago about Mohamed V airport's toilets? It was rumored to lead to the ONDA's boss' demise...
As for the elections, one sure sign of nervousness is the violent reaction of the CCDH, Morocco's official human rights body, through its chief, Ahmed Herzenni, which accused the national observers - whose report was much more factual and critical of the voting process than the bland international report - see http://www.blog.ma/obiterdicta/index.php?action=article&id_article=15350 .
They simply can't stand dissent from the official "plubopaysdumonde"-line.
Btw, Al Masae, the Moroccan paper with the largest circulation, had a funny column by its founder, Rachid Nini, about Fouad Ali El Himma - it was called "al mahdi al mortada" - "the hidden messias" - a vitriolic column against M6's chum...
Posted by: Ibn Kafka at September 12, 2007 08:26 PM
L'Economiste's editorial wants to convince readers not only that the elections are very credible, but also that they are a tribute to both the true democratization of the country, and the non islamization of said country. Of course, one wonders what they can use now to threaten the poor classes of society, since they have written many times that if the working class did not behave there should be no democracy, and moreover that the possible islamization is a good reason to not democratize. Of course, they are not forced to be consistent in their editorial pages, and I don't expect them to be.
Posted by: sanaa at September 13, 2007 01:31 AM
No I only get the Economiste en passant you know, and my journalistic reading time has to focus on stuff that is useful to me.
Economiste editorials... well... not so useful usually.
Frankly the utterly childish reaction of the, how did you put it, Agdal-Maarifine, to both the PJD and criticisms is at once amusing and disappointing.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at September 13, 2007 09:39 AM
"my journalistic reading time has to focus on stuff that is useful to me".
Wait, didn't you reveal some time ago that you read La Nouvelle Tribune???
Posted by: Ibn Kafka at September 13, 2007 10:29 AM
Yes, I did.
Nouvelle Tribune's economy pages in terms of getting basic information right (better the l'Economiste whose financial illiteracy puzzles and stuns me).
Not the rest of it.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at September 13, 2007 11:57 AM
Hm. Scanning a foreign newspapers' stand this afternoon (in Sweden), I noticed a whole row of French headlines about the M'n elections going with some variant of "free election, unfree country" or "parliament debates, king decides" etc. Anglophone coverage I've only had from the web, but it has seemed a lot cheerier than that, focusing instead on the election being the so-far freest and rejoicing that the PJD didn't win.
Now, this was just a momentary impression, and I didn't read any of the actual articles. But just off the cuff, what are your impressions, who follow French press regularly? Because I don't.
Posted by: alle at September 13, 2007 01:08 PM
I seldom follow French press on Morocco, simply because they are either ignorant (most of the time) or simplistic (a few Moroccan stringers write for the mainstream weeklies, but they steep to the very low level of lnowledge of the average reader). Since the liberalisation of the press around 97/98, and the appearance of an independent press, the main comparative advantage of the foreign, i.e. French, press has disappeared. You do not need it anymore to keep yourself well-informed of Moroccan affairs. I'd even venture to say that I've read articles in the Moroccan press that I haven't read in the French press, e.g., articles about the internal politics of the military or the secret services.
Get me right: I do not pretend that Morocco has reached Scandinavian levels of press freedom, but nowadays you only need to read the foreign press to keep yourself informed about how France/Spain (the two countries that count, plus the US, but its press isn't really interested in or knowledgeable about Morocco) perceives Morocco, but no longer to get the hard facts.
Posted by: Ibn Kafka at September 13, 2007 02:03 PM