Describing the 7 October elections in Morocco as a political earthquake is no exaggeration. Given the mounting levels of literacy and social media savvy, votes in cities were expected to favour candidates who keep an arm’s-length from the state. Yet, even roadmaps drawn for countryside or poor or illiterate voters were challenged and proved inconsiderate of Morocco’s deep social changes. Election results stressed the public’s increasing engagement in common concerns.
The polls also emphasised starkly some political parties’ post-2011 tendency to reject state monopoly. With the Justice and Development Party’s 125 parliament seats, the parties promoting democratisation discourses got psychological support from the public and social media activists. They, consequently, feel more encouraged to defy deep-state hegemony. Thus, 7 October put another brick in the wall of a possible democratising experience, for which they refrained from demanding the ouster of the regime in 2011. The burden on the parties’ shoulders, however, is huge if they are to withstand the renewed traps set by monopoly.
This has resulted in an unprecedented exchange of sometimes inflammatory press releases. As government-formation has deadlocked, press releases demarcate rifts between two blocs. The first leans towards democracy, led by the PJD and joined by the ex-communist Progress and Socialist Party (PPS) and nationalist Independence Party (IP).
This coalition reinvigorates nationalist movement advocacy, components of which the deep state managed to balkanise through creating administrative parties in the 20th century. The current monopoly tactics seem more like old wine in new bottles.
Today, the leaders of the PJD, PPS and IP have all had to face anger from the palace, yet have managed to get through without fatal repercussions for their parties. The PJD’s Abdelilah Benkiran was attacked on different occasions for spreading doubt about the support for democratisation from public institutions. For instance, the Throne Speech disparaged an interview in which Benkiran had criticised Morocco’s two-states: the state we know, of which the king is head; and a second, deep state, about which we know neither the shape nor the real power.
Benkiran was scorned equally for continuously denouncing “hegemony”, implying the different tactics to which the deep state resorted in order to block his government’s smooth functioning. Nevertheless, he showed considerable lenience, as far as the public will was respected, even within limits.
Concerning the PPS, resisting oblique attempts to break his alliance with the PJD led to a direct endeavour to break the relationship between the party and its Secretary General Nabil Benabdallah. In a press release, the palace condemned Benabdallah for spreading political delusion by accusing the king’s key advisor, Fouad Ali Elhimma, of lying behind “hegemony”.
Benabdallah not only explained that he referred to the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) founders generally but also hit back in a bold press release defending his party’s free decision-making, organisational integrity, historical legitimacy and loyalty to public interests. The PPS paid the price in the number of parliament seats it held, which shrunk from 20 in 2011 to 12 in 2016. Yet, its unconditional coalition with the PJD epitomises how democracy can help transcend ideologies. The party gets due respect in Moroccan politics today.
Moreover, Hamid Chabat, the IP Secretary General, refused to participate in a soft coup on 8 October. Ilyas Elomari, PAM leader, is alleged to have invited party leaders to sign a letter to the king refusing to join in a coalition with the PJD and PPS. The letter was intended to blow the 7 October election results out of the water. Chabat’s refusal foiled the scam.
To retaliate, once elected as president of the National Rally of Independents Party (RNI) on 29 October, Aziz Akhannouch, an affluent businessman now representing deep state interests after PAM’s failure, asked Benkiran to reject coalition with Chabat and replace IP with three other Akhannouch-supporting parties. In a surreal scenario, Akhannouch, who succeeded current Foreign Affairs Minister Salaheddine Mezouar, wants to be the genuine head of the government, though he did not even participate in the elections, while RNI, from which he had resigned, got only 37 seats.
Unexpectedly, Chabat uttered some remarks against Mauritania, a neighbour with which Morocco has grown uncomfortable recently. For the coalition, Chabat’s remarks simply added insult to injury. They were untimely and offered coalition adversaries, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a rare chance to legitimise their call for excluding him from government-formation talks.
The second bloc includes parties that seem willing to jump over election results. For them, especially RNI, the public will as expressed on 7 October may not yield a strong government. They depend on Akhannouch’s economic network to imply that the country’s high interests require a strong, coherent coalition that also includes the Socialist Union for Public Forces (USFP), administrative Popular Movement (PM) and Constitutional Union (CU). The PAM is watching from the rear.
Yet, in the previous mandate, different PM ministers proved to be inefficient, while RNI ministers and USFP leaders’ names featured in the “state servants” scandal. CU is a tiny party with no government experience. Thus, it is not clear precisely what strength or cohesion they call for. The answer came from Benkiran when he stopped negotiations with RNI and PM leaders, describing USFP and CU leaders as not concerned with the talks.
Ironically, the division serves the deep state more than anything else. True, all parties try to keep the monarchy to one side in political strife. Nevertheless, the outcome is that political parties will resort to royal arbitration to solve the stalemate. The administrative bloc tries to invest in Akhannouch’s close relations with the king. However, the “public will” red line obliges all actors to respect the outcome of the ballot box. Otherwise, the general public may cease to believe in the legitimacy of elections and the value of the nascent democratisation process as a whole.