x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Morocco votes in first election since reforms

The main contenders in the Moroccan election were the moderate Islamist Justice and Development party and a handful of liberal, secular parties.

RABAT // Moroccans yesterday voted in parliamentary elections for the first time since the country's new constitution was passed in July.

A moderate Islamist party was expected to win a considerable number of seats.

Polling stations opened at 8am, after two weeks of party campaigning officially ended at midnight on Thursday.

Throughout the capital, streets were littered with colourful brochures listing the highlights of each party's agenda.

The main contenders were the moderate Islamist Justice and Development party and a handful of liberal, secular parties.

Opinion polls are not allowed in Morocco but observers said Justice and Development could emerge with the most votes after similar success by a moderate Islamist party in Tunisia's first democratic election last month.

The party's main rivals are the centre-right Independence party of the prime minister, Abbas El Fassi, and the Coalition for Democracy, an eight-party pro-monarchy bloc.

Turnout was slow when the polls first opened. By noon, voters were still coming in sparse numbers to Moulay Youssef High School in the heart of the capital.

"We are expecting more to come in the afternoon," said Mohammed Belahcen, the chief of one of the five polling stations set up at the school. "At 10.50am, 59 out of the 608 voters registered in this polling station have voted. But we may be seeing long queues later, when people start to get off work."

The country's monarch, Mohammed VI, announced constitutional reforms shortly after protests in February.

"Voting is a national duty," said Meryem Sqalli, 19, a student. "It's a point of view that I'm putting across. We always hear there's a lack of transparency. But there's some hope things will change. I'm optimistic."

In the dorms of the school, Amine El Abdi El Alaoui, a maths and physics student who turns 19 next month, said he would not vote.

Talking with roommates outside the dorms, Mr El Alaoui said the parties were holding "the same old discourse".

He said the elections are being organised "by a government whose credibility is doubted by the people. I mean, haven't you seen the demonstrations?"

The February 20 Movement, a leaderless and loosely organised group of young people from various walks of life, has regularly demonstrated calling for a boycott of the elections.

Three political parties were also boycotting the elections, in addition to Al Adl wa Al Ihsan, a banned Salafi movement whose members are active on university campuses.

Najib Chaouki, 33, one of the founders of the movement, said the boycott was called because "the government that will come out of this will be weak, since the king remains too powerful".

In all, 31 parties were vying for the 395 seats in the lower house of parliament - 70 more than during the last election.

Of the assembly's 395 members, 305 are elected from electoral lists put together by the parties in 92 constituencies.

The remaining 90 seats are elected from a so-called national list, with 60 seats reserved for women and the remaining 30 seats set aside for candidates under the age of 40.

The winning party will have constitutional powers to form a cabinet after consultation with the king.

Under the previous constitution, the king appointed the prime minister and the rest of the cabinet.

The polls closed at 7pm and final results were expected today.



* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse