As the second post-2011 government has lingered in Morocco’s corridors of power for more than two months, optimistic and grim scenarios have been suggested. Among other options, Justice and Development Party (PJD) leaders have expressed their readiness for another election. They are depending on the party’s positive reputation since coming into government to see them through. Post-election confidence, in fact, stems from the same strategic understanding of local and regional dynamics that construed the 7 October political earthquake.
When the October election day approached, the general feeling in Morocco was that, in the absence of foreign interference, the PJD would lead the vote. The expectation relied on the reforms that the PJD-led government engaged in, even though some were unsuccessful. The 2015 local and regional election results equally enhanced voter acquisition, as the party governs most big cities in the kingdom today. Furthermore, the PJD focused frequently on fighting despotism and corruption, which functions as a game-changer in the current slow government-forming negotiations.
Nevertheless, the 7 October atmosphere and competition were so merciless that the PJD played all of its key cards. Most PJD ministers led local electoral lists. Deputy Minister of Transport Najib Boulif, for example, led a list in the Tangier province, in northern Morocco, to receive 60,162 votes; it was an unprecedented tally in Moroccan elections in a single province. Moreover, the PJD secretary general toured the country, attending around 26 rallies in 13 days. The party also tried to attract the attention and sympathy of some social groups by nominating influential figures, including the Movement for Unity and Reform, by electing its ex-president Mohammed El Hamdaoui. Meanwhile, a moderate section among Moroccan Salafists was approached through the nomination of Hmad El Kabbaj in Marrakech, although the local administration blocked that game-changing move. Finally, the PJD kept clarifying that a number of its leaders’ moral scandals that went viral on social media were not only false propaganda but also an attempt to divert public attention away from the struggle for reform. The ultimate goal was to secure the role of the ballot box and guarantee maximum competitiveness that would boost the democratic experience.
Few people expected the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) to fade away, given the media and administrative support it had received. In all the numerous proposals to solve the current government stalemate, the PAM is the least mentioned, though it ranked second in the elections. The party’s weaknesses have provided the PJD’s Abdelilah Benkiran with enough occasions both to attack its corruption and reiterate his own party’s resistance to despotism. Consequently, he managed to acquire the image of a national figure wise enough to balance resistance and compromise as public interest requires while the PAM secretary general, Ilyas El Omari, has started calling for reconciliation, probably in vain.
As an alternative to the PAM, the National Rally of Independents (RNI) seems to have taken over in representing administrative interests. Once “elected” as the RNI’s new secretary general, Aziz Akhennouch, a wealthy businessman very close to the governing elite, insisted on a strange condition for him to participate in the government coalition. He asked Benkiran to pull out of the PJD’s alliance with two other parties. It was like recommending political suicide that would isolate the PJD, devalue all the votes it managed to win and disregard its history of struggling against political monopoly. With a government that is RNI-led from behind, as Akhennouch’s suggestion entails, the PJD would simply sustain the blurred connection between wealth and power which the party has pledged to dismantle.
The PJD’s reply was a brief and clear no, with the possibility of negotiating alternatives. Refusing to scrap the party’s strategic alliance with the Progress and Socialism Party (PPS) and Istiqlal — Independence — Party (IP) sends a message to the public, political opponents and ruling elites that anti-despotism and anti-corruption discourse is not merely empty talk. The party means what its leaders say in different rallies, communications and reports. For them, their inability to fulfil certain promises during the first term in office, given the recurrent administrative hurdles and lack of previous experience, should not be interpreted as surrender to despotism. Resisting government monopoly from within is paramount, especially as they suffered from skirmishes that could implode the government in 2015. In the second mandate, adequate importance is expected for a culture of mutual respect between institutions to make Moroccan politics more meaningful.
Thus, the fact that negotiations to form a government have not yet concluded indicates more than anything the PJD’s faith in reform projects. Together with the PPS and IP, the party is increasingly forming a nucleus that transcends ideological agendas to accentuate public interest and take another step in the nascent post-2011 democratisation process. Surrender to RNI’s economic takeover will simply smother the attempts to clarify relations within the political arena. It will also mean succumbing to a true counter-revolution on the public will that 7 October expressed, which political history won’t forgive.
For the three parties, especially the lead group, resisting this repositioning of hegemony fosters legitimacy. In cities and remote areas, the public resisted monopoly and voted for reform, expecting a more rewarding coalition that not only respects public will but more importantly also pushes the limits of transparency, accountability and good governance practices.