King Mohammed VI pledges larger role for political parties and independent judiciary, after thousands marched in call for political reform.
Morocco's king promises to draft a new constitution
TUNIS // Last month thousands of Moroccans marched in cities around the country demanding constitutional reform to limit the power of King Mohammed VI. On Wednesday the king promised them a new constitution altogether.
In a televised address, King Mohammed pledged greater power for local officials and announced a committee to draft a new constitution featuring an independent judiciary, a larger role for political parties and a prime minister drawn from the majority party.
The new constitution is to be completed by June. No date has been set for a promised referendum to approve it.
Mohammed Darif, a politics professor at Morocco's Mohammedia University, said: "It's a real change, since Moroccan constitutions have so far been founded on the principle of unified power embodied by the king."
Morocco has a parliament and active political parties. However, the current constitution makes King Mohammed the head of state and the country's highest religious authority, and gives him powers to dissolve parliament, name ministers and declare a state of emergency.
"Now, the king has broken with this constitutional experience," Mr Darif said. "It's the first time that a king is talking about a representative government emanating from the parliamentary majority, where the prime minister can exercise real executive power."
It remains unclear whether the new constitution will allow the prime minister to choose the cabinet, while the monarchy will continue to take the lead in governance, Mr Darif said.
"The new constitution will not establish a parliamentary monarchy along the lines of Spain or Britain," Mr Darif said. "But we've broken with an executive monarchy where the king does everything."
Last month Moroccans joined a wave of popular protest that has swept through Arab countries since December, toppling leaders in Tunisia and Egypt and provoking armed revolt in Libya.
Moroccan protesters have stopped short of calling for the departure of King Mohammed, who has won praise for liberalising Morocco's economy, improving the status of women and addressing abuses committed during the reign of his father, Hassan II, who died in 1999.
However, not all Moroccans are confident that the proposed constitution will translate to substantial change.
Abdelilah Benabdesselam, the vice president of the Moroccan Human Rights Association, a human-rights watchdog that supported last month's demonstrations, said: "We need a democratic body reflecting all of Moroccan society to draw up the new constitution, not just a committee of experts.
"We've frequently had declarations of reform in Morocco, but in the end they're never applied," Mr Benabdesselam said. "We'll see what this commission brings."
Meanwhile, King Mohammed's speech on Wednesday did not directly address corruption and alleged abuse of power that plague Morocco.
More than a third of Moroccans admitted to paying a bribe last year, according to a report in December by the corruption watchdog Transparency International.
Much of Morocco's wealth is concentrated in the hands of a circle of powerful businessmen, royal confidants and royally owned companies, according to US diplomatic cables leaked last year by the online whistleblower, WikiLeaks.
King Mohammed, for his part, said on Wednesday that the proposed new constitution would firm up state institutions "concerned with good governance, human rights and the protection of liberties".