Among his most recent media coverage, Abdelilah Benkiran, designated as Morocco’s head of government, reaffirmed the halting of government-forming negotiations. After four months of trying, he admits bluntly to the absence of serious negotiators. The situation deals a blow to democratisation promises from the highest political authorities in post-2011 Morocco. The main negotiator — and hence the most obvious source of government blockage — has been Aziz Akhannouch, the new secretary general of the National Rally of Independents (RNI). To form the government, Akhannouch is asking the Justice and Development Party (PJD) to reject its pre-election allies and substitute them with other parties of his choice.
To legitimise his condition, Akhannouch — who’s RNI only won 37 parliamentary seats — merged with another party and took over two others after the elections. Thus, he feels that he has sufficient back-up to impose the four parties on the PJD, which won 125 seats. As the impasse continues, the RNI leader is presented as the only saviour, notwithstanding the undemocratic effects of the situation. However, accepting this scenario will not only form an ill-shapen six-party government, but it will also be one of the most humiliating outcomes that any election in Morocco has ever had.
In addition to the four parties surrendering to Akhannouch’s will, the RNI’s wealthy leader receives heavy support from state-related media and political analysts. In talk shows and op-eds, the impression being given is that the government has a pressing need for consent from the economic networks. They depict, quite falsely, economic circles as a monolithic, manipulable bloc. The claim tends equally to scare such circles, though in its first mandate, the PJD-led government opted for reforms without jeopardising the interests of big business.
Pro-deep state analysts also hint at closeness to the palace as an added value. Being a friend of the king, Akhannouch-supporting propaganda machines invest in the relationship, despite the damage that this does to royal neutrality.
Moreover, the toppling of Islamist-led governments regionally and the rise of Trumpism have encouraged analysts to prioritise the protection of the kingdom’s national interests, as if the current election results threaten them. For the general public, all this means is that the deep state favours Akhannouch, which may cripple post-election scenarios. With the developments since the election last October, the PJD has three possibilities: two can further complicate political relations while one can be a less conflictual third way.
For a start, the PJD could admit defeat in trying to form a government and ask the king to call for another election. According to the 2011 constitution, only the leader of the majority party in parliament can form the government. An early election, though, will tarnish the country’s image. Various Moroccan institutions, especially the monarchy, see democratisation, freedom of speech and human rights as key components in a different Arab Spring narrative. A re-run of the elections, especially without constitutional reform, will reveal the 2011 constitution’s gaps and devalue all the discourse that extolled its virtues. Furthermore, a new election could well produce a similar result, with the PJD taking the lead. It will actually solve nothing. The only possibility for the political scene to be changed would probably be electoral fraud, which Morocco cannot tolerate in its current regional and international circumstances.
The second option is to put the PJD into opposition. The party’s leadership openly disregards this move, not least because allowing the winning party the option of forming the main opposition is anti-constitutional. Such a move would need constitutional reform and would facilitate more attacks on the PJD. Meanwhile, unlike parties which fear becoming the opposition, the PJD has distinguished between government experience and the party structure to keep the latter strong, adding to the experience that its MPs have gathered in decision-making. Thus, it will be difficult for a government to function with the PJD in opposition. The resulting atmosphere may entail a direct struggle with the palace, which the party has been trying to avoid ever since it got involved in party politics.
The third way is to open a direct dialogue with the king, who favours being treated as a neutral political actor between parties. He has taken careful steps to keep his distance from political parties and respect the constitution. Following the election, the king immediately designated Benkiran for the post of head of government. Later, he sent the head of the constitution-drafting committee, Abdellatif El Manouni, to request the prompt formation of the government, while implying the constitution’s pivotal place in the Moroccan political sphere.
However, royal neutrality necessitates the respecting of democratic processes. The constitution bans MPs from switching to other parties post-election, not to mention the annexation of whole parties. Also, in his Dakar speech, the king ensured the formation of a government that prioritises efficient elites. In the Akhannouch bloc of election-losing parties, one party has no government experience, another had three ministers that brought disgrace upon the previous government, while RNI ministers defended the “state servants” scandal. The fourth accepted the post of parliamentary speaker despite much controversy surrounding the legitimacy of the move. Thus, the greater efficiency resides with the PJD bloc.
“Africa can and must validate, on its own, its elections and thus endorse its citizens’ free choice,” said King Mohammed VI in his speech at the 28th African Union Summit. This royal conviction, if applied in Morocco, can guarantee genuine respect for the public choice expressed on 7 October last year. If approaching Africa with such a mindset, then Morocco’s development projects also require democratic justice within. The PJD’s understanding of the equation not only encourages perseverance against the blockage but also makes requests for joint efforts to protect democracy completely legitimate.