x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Islamist Justice and Development Party wins Morocco's election

As predicted, the PJD won the most seats with the conservative Istiqlal (Independence) party coming in second.

RABAT // Morocco's moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party yesterday won the parliamentary elections, spurring speculation about the coalition the party would forge to lead a new government.

As predicted, the PJD won the most seats with the conservative Istiqlal (Independence) party coming in second.

The two parties are known to have courted each other before the elections and their alliance is one of the most probable outcomes, according to analysts.

"It's not just likely. It's certain," said Ahmed Reda Benchemsi, a visiting political science fellow at Stanford University in the US. "The PJD may well secure up to 25 per cent of the parliamentary seats on its own, which is very high. But they still have to coalesce with the Koutla."

The Koutla, or "the Bloc", is a three-party alliance between Istiqlal, the Socialist Union of Popular Forces and the Party of Progress and Socialism.

The alliance with the PJD would secure the majority of 198 seats needed to control the 395-member lower house of parliament.

Because of a peculiar electoral system based on "local" and "national" lists of candidates that the parties put together, the party that wins the majority of votes in a given constituency does not take all the seats contested.

This forces the winning party to form a coalition government.

The party's secretary general, Abdelillah Benkirane, said on Saturday that his party was on good terms with the Koutla.

But a question left unanswered is whether Mr Benkirane would be named head of the government by the Moroccan monarch, Mohammed VI, who has the final say in naming the prime minister.

"I have nothing to concede. The decision is with His Majesty the king and we are a party that respects His Majesty and we interact with his initiatives and decisions," the independent daily newspaper, Akhbar Al Youm, quoted Mr Benkirane as saying yesterday.

"There is a custom, indeed," Mr Benkirane said, referring to two previous occasions when a Moroccan king named the leader of the winning party as head of government, including in the 2007 elections in which the PJD came in second.

"But I'm not interfering with the king's prerogatives. The constitution is clear on this," Mr Benkirane added.

Under the country's new constitution, which was passed by wide margin in July, the king is entitled to choose the new head of government from the party that won the most votes - not necessarily the party leader.

But if King Mohammed does not give his blessing to Mr Benkirane, "there would be some trouble", Mr Benchemsi said.

Contrary to what Mr Benkirane told Akhbar Al Youm, "the PJD already said in a statement that if the king does not choose its secretary general as head of government, they will convene a meeting and vote on whether to accept that decision", Mr Benchemsi said.

"Which in itself would be a first. It's like they are telling the king, 'Wait, we'll think about it'. It's the beginning of a long arm-wrestle with the monarchy … and the start of a redefinition of the power balance in Morocco."

The technocrat-dominated National Rally of Independents (RNI), which led an eight-party "Coalition for Democracy" to counter the surge of the PJD in the run-up to the elections, came in third. The RNI is now expected to consider moving with its allies to the opposition.

"Technically, they will move to the opposition. They have no better option," Mr Benchemsi said.

The PJD's win marks the first time the party gets access to power, after sitting in the opposition since its first run in 2002.

aelbahi@thenational.ae