Morocco's referendum on reform: Model for Arab Spring?
Some Western observers see Morocco's referendum on constitutional reform today as forging a new path for embattled Arab leaders. It is widely expected to pass, but many protesters boycotted.
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Mohammed Ziane, the founder of the Moroccan Liberal Party, supported the reforms with enthusiasm, linking the changes in Morocco with regional events. "This is a beginning," he says on the phone from Casablanca. "Moroccans and the populations of the region finally started thinking about democracy, asking to have more control on their governments."Skip to next paragraph
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Why some opposition leaders boycotted the vote
But some opposition leaders were not impressed by the proposed changes, and urged the population to boycott Friday's vote.
Those calling for a boycott came together under the umbrella of the February 20 movement - named for the day of the first anti-regime demonstration.
Similar to the loose-knit coalitions that have led protests in other Arab countries, the movement is made up of young Moroccans, bloggers, Internet activists, small labor unions, some ultra-leftist groups and the Justice and Spirituality Organization, an illegal but tolerated Islamist movement. It has been campaigning against the referendum and organizing protests.
The efforts of the opposition parties were out-muscled though by the campaign for a "yes" vote, which were more organized and widespread.
In every Rabat neighborhood, big posters urged voters to go to the polls; in popular markets banners declared shopkeepers' support for the king; imams in the mosques last Friday urged devotees to go to the polls and the king's smiling face was on the front page of every national magazine. Opposition activists claimed that local and regional associations, under pressure from the government, shuttled people by bus to attend pro-referendum demonstrations in many cities.
There is little doubt in Morocco about the outcome of the referendum: most analysts expect a resounding "yes," thanks at least partly to the monarch's long history of coopting political rivals into alliances with the regime.
So the success of the king's move will be measured not by the result but by voter turnout. The national press agency, MAP, said on Friday afternoon that 60 percent of 13 million registered voters cast ballots, a percentage difficult to confirm independently.
Implementation will be key
The real challenge for king Mohammed VI starts with the closing of the ballot stations.
"This constitution has potential, it strips the king of a lot of power," said Maati Monjib, a professor of politcal history at Rabat University. "The changes introduced in 1996 in a previous constitutional referendum were never implemented. The future of the reform depends now on the pressure the street can still exert."
The opposition of February 20 has announced it will hold demonstrations every Sunday in the main Moroccan cities.