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Morocco's king names new prime minister to form new government

Saad Eddine El Othmani Morocco's new prime minister
Saad Eddine El Othmani Morocco's new prime minister

Moroccan King Mohammed VI has named Saad Eddine El Othmani as the kingdom's new prime minister, and asked him to form a new government after he sacked veteran Islamist premier Abdelilah Benkirane yesterday for failing to form a government in five months.

Like Benkirane before him, Othmani is also from the ruling Justice and Development Party (PJD) who won the Moroccan elections last October with 125 seats in the 395-seat House of Representatives. Its nearest rival, the liberal Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM), won 102 seats.

Although Benkirane led the PJD to victory and even increased its share of the vote, he was unable to form a unity government and had been hampered by a disagreement with a key parliamentary ally. An empowered opposition also used their additional seats in the Moroccan legislature to hinder Benkirane's attempts at forming a government.

The king took the decision to sack the former prime minister yesterday "in the absence of signs that suggest an imminent formation" of a government and due to "his concern about overcoming the current blockage" in political negotiations, a royal statement said.

Under Morocco's election law no party can win an outright majority in the 395-seat parliament, making coalition governments a necessity in a system where the king still holds ultimate power.

But the PJD's relations with former coalition partner, the conservative Istiqlal party, soured over economic reforms, and talks over formation of a government with the centre-right National Rally of Independence (RNI) stalled.

The king thanked Benkirane for his service as prime minister, praising him for his "effectiveness, competence and self-sacrifice".

In the aftermath of his dismissal, Benkirane told Reuters:

This is our king and he came to a decision under the framework of the constitution, which I've always expressed support for. I'm going to perform ablution, pray, and continue working on the ground

Benkirane's efforts have met with resistance from parties that critics say are too close to the palace. Royalist supporters have been reluctant to share power with Islamists since the king ceded some powers in 2011 to ease protests.

The palace says the king maintains the equal distance from all parties and dismisses claims of royal interference.

Concern has mounted about the impact of the political impasse on Morocco's economy. This year's budget, which should have been approved by parliament by the end of 2016, cannot be passed until a government is in place.

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