x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Morocco coalition faces split

Six Istiqlal ministers to resign over fuel and food subsidies.

RABAT // The junior partner in Morocco's governing coalition was expected to resign yesterday over planned cuts in food and energy subsidies and other issues it believes will hurt the poor, a spokesman for the conservative Istiqlal party said.

Istiqlal is in coalition with the Islamist Justice and Development party (PJD) that won 2011 legislative elections after the adoption of the new constitution proposed by King Mohammed in response to Arab Spring protests.

"Our ministers will submit their resignations to the prime minister," Istiqlal spokesman Adil Benhamza said yesterday.

"PJD wants to raise prices and hit the poorest, while we prefer to pick up some billions which are in the hands of speculators by controlling imports," he said.

He accused the prime minister, Abdelilah Benkirane, of "acting like the head of a political party rather than the head of a government that represents the people".

It remained unclear whether the king, who wields ultimate power, would accept the six ministers' resignations, although political analysts said Istiqlal's move did not seem spontaneous and may have had at least partial support from the palace.

If the king accepts the resignations, Mr Benkirane must seek a new coalition partner or call an early election. Analysts say the first option is the more likely.

The government, under pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), plans cuts of about 20 per cent in subsidies of basic goods that last year burnt up Dh53.36 billion in public money, or 6.4 per cent of national output.

The reforms, which are expected to be introduced after Ramadan, will spell pain for households used to subsidised oil, gas, sugar and other staple goods.

The political establishment around King Mohammed is anxious to avoid a drop in living standards and prevent a repeat of the street protests the country suffered in 2011.

Last year, Morocco agreed on a two-year, US$6.2bn (Dh22.77bn) precautionary credit line with the IMF.

Mr Benkirane said the IMF had criticised his government last month for acting too hesitantly in implementing reforms to improve Morocco's public finances.