Morocco elections aren't a model for the Arab Spring as West claims
Contrary to the West's view, Morocco's parliamentary elections this weekend didn't signal a bold step toward democracy. They showed just how far the country has to go to achieve real reforms – and how much more power the king must give up.
As the world turned its attention to the massive and sustained demonstrations in Egypt last week, much smaller but nevertheless significant protests took place in Morocco leading up to Friday’s parliamentary elections. As the country prepared for the first elections since King Mohammed VI implemented reforms last summer to give that body more power, thousands of Moroccans took to the streets in Casablanca, Rabat, and Tangier, calling for regime change.Skip to next paragraph
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The demonstrations highlight the wide gap between the West’s vision of Morocco as a leading example of how to transition into democracy, and the average Moroccan’s view of a regime reluctant to release power.
The West has been veritably giddy about King Mohammed VI’s “progressive” democratic reforms – implemented to head off Arab Spring turmoil and appease protesters. American Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton heralded the constitutional reforms that paved the way for this Friday’s elections as an “important step toward democratic reform” by a “longstanding friend, partner, and ally of the United States.” French President Nicolas Sarkozy, too, commended the king for embarking on a “path to democracy."
Yet viewed from within, the constitutional reforms passed in July look very different. Under the new constitution, the king loses his “sacred status” and appoints a prime minister from the majority party in parliament. But the king has not loosened his grip on ultimate power, maintaining control over the religious establishment, the military, and all security matters. He can also implement “emergency law” and maintains veto power over all minister appointments. All laws must still be confirmed by the king.
Independent voices from the opposition were not involved in the reform process this summer. The ultimate demands of the February 20 Movement for Change movement were not met. Rather, the king relied on the political parties that have historically supported his monarchy to pass the initial reform.
Indeed, the 98.5 percent approval rate in the July 1 constitutional referendum highlighted how little had changed. If anything, the extraordinary rate reflected the authoritarian rule of the king’s father, Hassan II, more than the democratic reform of the “progressive” king.
Still, Friday’s elections showed signs of progress. Voter turnout was up from 37 percent in the last elections to 45 percent. And the moderate Islamist PJD (Justice and Development Party) – the former opposition party – earned unprecedented success, coming out on top with 107 of the parliament’s 395 seats. These developments suggest real reform may be possible. But there is a long way to go.