I apologise in advance to the excessive level of abstract models used in this post, but there is only so much I can take in the current, mainstream political science discourse in Morocco. I mean, I am a great fan of Wijhat Nadar (the review) and writings of heavyweights like Abdellah Laroui, but it would be fun to explore other alternatives, possibly using teachings from game theory. Plus this is High School-level math, so no harm done.
A quick look at a relatively unearthed matter in Moroccan politics can always tell when a consensus crosses party lines, and in this case, it is about the number of seats allocated to each district. Traditionally each and every party vent their respective grievances as to the incumbent districting: smaller parties vehemently oppose high thresholds (PSU found an eloquent advocate against it back in 2007 in one of its prominent leaders, Mohamed Sassi) and larger parties tend to believe their strongholds are undervalued: back then it was USFP in Rabat or Casablanca, nowadays it is PJD in Tangier, Casablanca or Salé. Every election is the same, parties complain to the media, but cannot agree on anything.
In fairness, districting is always a zero-sum game, even if the number of seats in parliament is expanded: a large district benefits some type of parties, and harms others. Better still, some parties have contradicting interests on similar constituencies; for instance, the 2011 general elections pitted Istiqlal and USFP (in Fez), PJD and UC (Marrakesh) RNI and Istiqlal (Southern seats) among others. A slight change in the number of seats, or inter-province districting can tip the balance one way or the other. Political parties in Morocco do look (and act) disorganised and utterly incompetent, but this belies their inner rationality as to their political survival.
Consider a simple model to capture the perverse effect that compels political parties to defer to a benevolent actor e.g. the Interior Ministry. It is the rational course of action for every political party in Morocco: abdicate the possibility of a contentious (but ultimately more democratic) battle over the optimal number of allocated seats per district, for a more peaceful, consensual redistricting under the auspices of a mechanism-designer with endogenous preferences, ultimately the perpetual weakening of that very same political spectrum.
Consider a number of n political parties competing for a fixed (but undefined) number of seats. Each party i derives some utility from contesting elections and having members of parliament elected; three layers of benefits can be listed: first, merely electing a member of parliament, second, electing a caucus with at least 6% of nationwide popular votes, and finally, a benefit from coming on top, or very close. The utility function is thus:
As each party prepares to contest elections, they face a certain fixed cost (typically the deposit required from each and every party candidate/list) but on the other hand, there are benefits attached to large caucuses, either in form of increased monetary compensation, or some utility derived from participating in a government. A simple differentiation pinpoints exactly the conflict of interest:
As one can see, the benefit from one additional seat for a particular party stems from the performance of other parties (a primary evidence of the zero-sum aspect of game elections) and most importantly, is negatively linked to this term . In this particular setting, it refers to a ‘premium’ put on the seat(s) won by that particular party. As it shall be proven later, each and every party has a particular incentive at keeping that parameter exogenous – in this case, defer to a higher authority.
Suppose the premium is set by the final outcome, i.e. suppose the present electoral result decides the next performance and the size of the district. This means:
Now, there are a couple of cases where the last term might differ from the first case to the second. And there comes the Interior Ministry (the shiny knight cloaked in white, one might say) in providing an arbitrage that benefits individual parties, but ultimately harm their collective chances in getting large, stable government coalitions. In this setting, individual parties are better off when the premium is low, in fact when it is lower than the fixed, exogenous term , that is:
Because of the higher competition (captured by a competitive districting) between parties mean the overall benefit from seats won by a particular party is diminished, and coming on top is not worth much.
As the same reasoning is applied to the entire caucus carried by party i, we get:
and there is your proof: on average, a caucus is better off when the districting is exogenous: this is possible because each district is treated the same; the intuition behind it is, preferential treatment for one district cannot be achieved because every other district will have to be treated similarly, and that takes us back to square one. The best response for each political party is thus to support uniform treatment, and as a result their respective caucuses are weakly better of with an exogenous districting.
Suppose we also look at the dispersion of caucuses as well: a larger expectation in caucus size does not mean both cases exhibit equal dispersion around it; in fact, since denotes dispersion around the mean, and since: then
This is an important result, because individual party interest trumps the collective likelihood of having a strong parliamentary majority (due to competitive districting) and the benevolent designer can only minimise the volatility – if it is indeed in their interest.
A candid observer cannot but wonder how Makhzen and Nihilist parties seem to agree on a status-quo that harms representative democracy: true, smaller parties (including PSU) are most likely to be wiped out of the political map if they do not merge or join larger parties, but on the other hand, larger parties also seem to know they are next in line, because the bulk of their seats can be lost if a competitive system were to be introduced, be it an alternative ballot system, or an unfavourable (but impartial) districting.
Authorities on the other hand seem to have some incentive in keeping volatility high enough, so as to deny any potentially rebellious party the possibility of commanding an absolute majority, and hence forming an independent-minded government. It seems political rationality in this setting trumps every possible narrative about ideology, or political history.
… and ultimately result in a reduction of the number of parties around.
November 25th General Elections reversed a trend observed since 1997: smaller parties endorse strong candidates for a winning ballot, depriving larger, mainstream parties from bigger caucuses in parliament, and in the process preventing strong coalitions to emerge. The proportional ballot tends to harm larger parties in specific constituencies when a smaller party (usually a breakaway group) manages to capture some votes and thus deprive the bigger party from gaining more seats on district slots.
But during this election, from all 33 competing parties, 18 managed to gain at least one seat, and seven top caucuses concentrate 90.5% of all 305 seats available on local ballot. One of the top seven parties -USFP- concentrates about the same number of seats the remaining 11. Needless to say that this is an improvement from 2007, where the top 7 parties had concentrated only 78% of local ballot seats, while 17 parties (and not 11) shared the remaining 65 seats. By HHI measures, concentration increased from 0.09 to 0.15. In politics, a concentrated parliament delivers stronger -and more accountable- government majority.
One of the reasons why so many parties are around is perhaps the lack of internal democracy within political parties, including those belonging to the historical Koutla; The process described by Abdellah Hamoudi is indeed very current: the leadership, more of an aggregate of father-figures, if not outright proponents of gerontocracy, kick out (or are kicked out of) the younger dissent that challenge their leadership, and these in turns create another party that seeks to capture the disgruntled activists. Post-1956 political history is littered with instances: In 1959, Mehdi Benberka, Abderrahim Bouabid and Abdellah Ibrahim decided to breakaway from the more traditional leadership in the person of Allal El Fassi and Mohamed Boucetta, and go on to found UNFP; Mohand Laenser in 1986 kicks out MP’s elder leader Mahjoub Aherdane -who in turn creates his own MNP party.There are very few instances of political parties with proven record in partisan, internal democracy, and this opacity in selecting political elites has worked as a deterrent to prevent a lot of Moroccan citizens to be involved with politics.Many political scientists however see in Feb20 demonstrations a revival of youth politics, and would be inclined to foresee -and I tend to agree with this view- an imminent renewal in our political personnel.
There is also another institutional roadblock to the revival of “big party politics”: I argue that Koutla parties, weakened by an Alternance Consensuelle they failed to turn to their advantage, fell back on more traditional, Moul Chkara -local notabilities- ton insure their caucus does not wane. USFP and Istiqlal, both electoral juggernauts tend to draw their typical Political Bosses from rural, traditional constituencies, a trend more acutely observable since 1997, where their elected delegations from Casablanca, Rabat or Agadir steadily decreased to marginal results form November 2011. Weakness in internal democracy, once justified by the struggle Koutla parties had to leader against Makhzen-led rival parties (MP in 1957 as a strong rival to Istiqlal, RNI and UC to Istiqlal and USFP, and more currently PAM as an anti-PJD bulwark)
One would think that parties lacking both internal democracy and a reliable stock of local notabilities would eventually die away; UC, while being out of office at least since 1992, still hangs on and manages to produce a decent caucus with the 2011 elections. And yet, they look like a smaller version of RNI: both share a common history of ‘Born To Rule’ kind of party, and their faith in all-out free-market ideology is undoubted.
What I would like to discuss is a two-steps legislation I believe would change the political landscape in a very short period of time: political finances and multi-party membership. I’d better start with the former.
as it is now, the law forbids a citizen to accrue membership:
Nul ne peut adhérer à plus d’un parti politique
It is very counter-intuitive. How come one individual could be involved with more than one party? And there goes the ‘Moroccan Exception’: Morocco has a multi-party system not out of an inherent and vibrant pro-democracy stance, but because a large number of political organizations weakens that very democracy – and at times, it was even a way for the Makhzen to extend its hold over political legitimacy.
But what if we consider some kind of formalized relationship between smaller and larger parties of similar political persuasions; a small party has little chances to go beyond a nationwide 6% of popular vote on general elections; they get a seat, or two, possible 5 at best, but not enough to gain some representation on the national ballot, and that hurts larger parties with whom they share similar constituencies. So a deal can be made to help both parties, especially if they share a common history and ideology: the smaller party can ask to join a large party of their choice during ordinary convention. And given the larger party’s acceptance, an ad hoc common convention at the end of which a common document is produced detailing the quotas devoted to the junior partner(s) in terms of platform contribution, leadership slots and even electoral agreements, e.g. what seats should be the partner’s and at what level.
What are the pay-offs for each party then? That’s a contract for sure, and it is best when self-enforced, meaning, that both co-contractors find their benefit in the deal. For junior parties, the benefits are immediate and obvious: niche constituencies at local level with little competition from stronger parties: local community board, perhaps even slots at the regional assemblies (we just have to wait for the Organic Bills that regulate Regional elections) the opportunity to weigh-in nation-wide on policy-making, and finally, better organization and finances.
And if the junior party is happy with the alliance, they might want to merge altogether, no problem. Meanwhile, it is their own valuation for a seat in parliament that will condition the essential motive for the whole thing: do they really want to compete so badly, or are they ready to trade an improbable race for parliament for a surer victory at local level?
The senior party benefits from the ‘alliance’ during general elections: we consider some seats contested during the November 2011 ballot; In Rabat’s both districts, there were 137 competitors for 7 slots. In Casablanca, the same goes: 34 seats attracted 640 candidates. Tangiers, finally, attracted 110 candidates for 5 slots. Mohand Laenser, the Representative for Boulemane, could have carried his n°2 as well, if the MDS didn’t put a good fight in his constituency: the Haraki vote was therefore split, and Laenser’s majority weakened substantially. Larger constituencies typically tend to attract more candidates from all parties, but ironically enough, tend to harm more larger parties – in a sense, PJD’s victory was more out of their competitors’ weaknesses than some sort of popular mandate.
This convoluted argument for a multi party-membership is due to the equally convoluted state of politics, and that goes especially for the Left. The number of political parties with an explicit reference to the Left, Socialism or Progress is now 11 – joined lately, it seems, with the PAM. The same goes for ‘Conservative’ or ‘Rural’ parties. I mean, the sole existence of a dozen of parties -no doubt with such nuanced differences in ideology- only confirms the lack of internal democracy, or a mere issue of egos. The idea is to create some material incentives for smaller parties to come together with larger parties and at the same time spare their leadership some self-pride in the process.
Les ressources financières du pari proviennent:
- des cotisations de ses membres;
- des dons, legs et libéralités, en numéraires ou en nature, sans que leur montant ou valeur global (sic) ne puisse dépasser 100,000 dirhams par an et par donateur;
- des revenus liés à ses activités sociales et culturelles;
- du soutien de l’Etat
The need to make sure politics stays clean of any dirty money is to get public finances to step in. Sadly enough, Morocco has an abysmal record on how the State managed money in the political process. Perhaps a shrewder move is to abolish public-funded schemes altogether. Large parties already enjoy big donations besides regular public money, and smaller organizations will eventually force themselves to put their act together once that lifeline is cut – some will have to merge with other parties, others will just disappear – there is no longer money for the smaller leadership to retain followers.
On the other hand, the 100,000 limit is absurd. It really is. La Vie Eco reportedly priced an electoral campaign to 1 Million dirhams. The spending limits on electoral campaign too are ludicrous – especially so when one considers that these limits are not indexed to inflation, these have been imposed by bureaucratic fiat.
Perhaps lawmakers were being protective of the right to constitute a political party by giving a ‘fair and equal chance’ and strict regulation. But the fact is, larger parties already enjoy a substantial advantage. Scrapping such legislation will harm no one, it will only recognize the fact that 100,000 dirhams are not enough to run a party. The same goes for limits on polling too, and both activities go hand in hand: it will take a lot of money to order polling, a business now intimately associated with modern politics.
So after the released drafts, came the exhaustive manifestos, with their detailed -well, almost- figures on what these parties and coalitions have in store for the Moroccan electorate.
There is one sure thing: competing parties are more than eager to announce bombastic figures on spending commitments. It is not necessarily bad politics to play the “caring government” card, but unless the same numbers are buttressed with equally large projections of funding, then all these numbers are built out of thin air. The trouble is, it seems our political parties understood any precise proposals of tax increases could backfire, so they settle for vague pledges to close a loophole or institute a ‘special tax’ with no details of implementation or expected yield.
We shall have a look at the following economic manifestos: Alliance A8, PJD and USFP. These are the only ones with decent manifestos at the moment.
Alliance for Democracy [pdf] : so far the most profligate competitors with an astounding 130Bn spending increases per annum, for those programs with announced funding, that is. Their pledge to increase Education expenditure up to 30% of Budget spending is a 53Bn joke. It is hard to argue such increase endangers public finances, but the evidence is there: most of the money goes into pay-wage, and still our teachers and professors are badly-paid, and the standards of education are a shambles. I suspect the increase in Education expenditure will take on more bureaucracy, and as they say, throwing money at problems will not solve them.
The Alliance also pledges to cut further Corporate taxes to 25% from the present 30%. It means the expected 41Bn receipts will dwindle by some 2 to 3Bn. The mixture in tax cuts and spending increases, accrued to the self-constrained pledge not to go beyond 50% debt to GDP ratio means means they are expecting to solely rely on tax increases to pay for their pledges, and at the same time increase payment to bring the ratio around their pledged target – a 20 Bn increase in debt service alone, not to mention restrain on borrowing requirements. The basic budget accounting shows their net spending increase is more in the region of 100Bn, as far as programs with indicative costing are concerned. To stabilize deficit around 3%, the alliance will have to increase taxes to 80Bn. Spendings’ order of magnitude allows to gainsay the feasibility of their projected budgets, and thus sheds doubt over the supposed image of economic competence A8 leader and outgoing Finance Minister Salaheddine Mezouar is keen to push around.
PJD Manifesto [pdf]: PJD has taken a very courageous -but ultimately unrealistic stand on halving unemployment 2 basis points to the region of 7%. This means they pledge to create 240,000 additional job on top of the economy’s regular job creation process.
The 3% deficit pledge is a constraint on PJD’s ambitious 77Bn package spending commitments; there are 57Bn in public investments they need to pay for (as part of their pledge to double public investment) they are basically stating the government will take over pension funds and spend around 15 to 24Bn in pensions. A PJD-led government will have to levy 54 to 60Bn in taxes, as per their pledge not to exceed 3& budget deficit, and imposing 30% VAT on “luxury goods” is not going to make up for the required tax receipts.
These numbers do not account for other tax cuts they have promised in their manifesto, although it worth noting that any increase in spending needs to be matched with commensurate tax increase, unless PJD considers borrowing money domestically and abroad – a policy I would not trust they would carry out successfully: their manifesto points out domestic debt represents 55% of GDP (p.19 French language manifesto). Well, they have inflated (intentionally?) the number because it is actually total debt to GDP ratio; domestic ratio more around 38% (Bank Al Maghrib’s honour). They have fiddled figures so grossly, I really doubt they have what it takes to manage an economy.
USFP Manifesto [doc]: they have adopted what could well be the best course for a party looking on its sunset, i.e. no figures, or if there were any of those, they would not be enough to make a decent policy out of it.
It is a bit disappointing from a political party with a pretty decent economic team: Lahbib Malki and Fatallah Oualalou are both economics professors and former ministers (respectively Education and Finances) they have had the support of younger economists, and USFP has enough resources to put together a decent manifesto with precise economic measures. I guess all of them, for all their mastery of economics, have difficulties with advanced statistics. It is as though the manifesto is just a catalogue, a wish-list:
“adopter un taux d’intérêt faible pour le démarrage durant les premières années d’exploitation
des projets des PME.”
Which means USFP flushes down the toilet two decades of Central Banking independence and deregulation it has advocated, and now pushes for outright government credit rationing (with all the entailed adverse selection issues), also :
“● adoption d’un impôt exceptionnel de solidarité afin de faire face au déficit social chronique et pour une meilleure équité et un rééquilibre social objectif et garant de la stabilité et de la cohésion sociales,
● allègement du fardeau fiscal sur les revenus des classes moyennes, en particulier les revenus professionnels, en révisant les tranches actuelles de l’impôt sur le revenu et en ajoutant de nouvelles tranches sur la base du principe d’une plus grande contribution des revenus élevés,
● élargissement de l’assiette fiscale afin d’inclure de manière progressive les activités agricoles des grandes exploitations destinées à l’exportation sans toucher les petits agriculteurs.”
All interesting pledges, but as far as precise policy objectives go, these commitments hold no credibility, especially when the same party failed to implement these policies when Fathallah Oualalou was Finances Minister from 1997 to 2007. Ten years to end the amnesty on Agricultural taxes, a decade to levy the wealth tax, plenty of time to reform fiscal receipts.
Unless Istiqlal chips in with similar spending pledges, the main political parties and coalitions are not producing realistic costing of their economic programs for the next 5 years. And it is also worth point out no one took the trouble to address the debt issue. Whatever coalition gets into office, they will certainly have to cancel most of their spending pledges and focus on debt reduction ,not because they want to, but because IMF will ask them to do so. Pressure them, really. It is both relieving and saddening to find the ultimate evidence that every single member of the political establishment, elected or not, partisan or administrative, have failed in terms of economic competence. Those in office are being economical with the truth, those in opposition fuelling desperate hope for change, and those really in charge for failing to be fiscally responsible.
This is a bit excruciating for me. As the idea started forming in my mind, I thought it would sound and look like I have abdicated what I hold to be my core, inner beliefs. To be more precise, this is not about abdicating principles, but rather how the Radicalism trademark in Morocco might have been pushed further to the left, too much to my liking, because of the hardened position taken by Feb20. I do not disparage the risks and the police harassment they endure, but this is not the only way to get the word out an active opposition is alive and kicking.
The referendum was the starting point: I belong to this crazy group of people who thought (or still thinks) that a deep constitutional reform is the way to bringing genuine democracy into Moroccan institutions and society. The assumption upon which the whole gamble plays on is that absolute political power will create some seismic moves in every political party, topple down the old-guard in favour of some fresh new faces, and eventually piece together the political spectrum into a couple of large parties instead of the existing myriad. This is so because in that context, politicians would be genuinely held accountable by the public; On the other end of those reforms, the Monarchy, while losing all executive and judiciary power, would retain the honorary function as the unifying symbol of this nation. Or so the story went.
After the referendum however, this fig-leaf was blown away because any political organization pushing for a constitutional reform right away after a referendum very few mainstream organization gainsaid. A more methodological state of mind would command to re-direct energies into more “popular” issues: purchasing power, income inequalities, Amazigh issues, Gender equality, Education, Security, Crime, whatever topic considered to be a bread-and-butter issue with the electorate. So far the prevailing sense among the Radical Left and those of similar loyalties gravitating around the Feb20 Movement is to keep the focus on figurehead issues, emotionally appealing but ultimately isolating the movement and confining it into an active but small nucleus of activists, like AMDH’s for instance.
And that’s where the excruciating part comes in: Am I still to be counted among the Left-wing Moroccan Radicals? I guess the “Confused” part was doing just fine, but I now feel more estranged than ever toward my party, let alone the whole political field. I disagreed on the Referendum and Elections boycott, I have been reviewing some of the proposals displayed in the 2007 Manifesto, and there goes the “fig-leaf” analogy: as long as the Radical Left (including, with a broad definition of reformism, Annahj) keeps aiming at global changes instead of looking for real issues, their credibility, as a matter of fact their whole brand of fresh politics is watered-down with perceived idealism, or worse still, elitism.It is a bit strange to conciliate seemingly contradictory notions of the Left being Tribunite and Elitist at the same time; but the fact of the matter is, this is the danger: a couple of days ago, PADS party has issued a statement stating its court action to declare November 25th General Elections to be unconstitutional. This is the perfect example of populist/elitist argument that does not appeal to real issues, and at the same time gives comfort to the very people the statement is supposed to frighten; the shot was to high, too much aimed at the moon that it actually backfires in terms of image and credibility: “PADS? why these Leftists are interested only in remote matters nobody cares!” or so goes the line.
To put it simply, many at the Radical Left leadership are rekindling with their youth, and instead of building alternatives for the ongoing politics, they have just got to relive the dream that fell short in the 1970s and 1980s. What makes it worse is the new generation of activists, all with noble intentions and high principles, but not necessarily ready -or geared for it- to play Point Counter-Point on specific issues, is pushing the old guard to engage in a more confrontational strategy. It might indeed fire up the strong supporters, but it leaves out the Silent Majority and all of the semi-sympathetic groups that do not see benefits in taking to the streets every Week-ends.
What is to be done then? Well, we need a narrative to attract the broadest possible spectrum around a precise consensus. The trouble is, the least common denominator needs to be defined within the established system; There’s Radicalism and Radicalism, and my brand is the latter: keep the Monarchy as the form of political regime, and shuffle up the rest; in the eyes of many who might disagree, the brand of radicalism is insured, and it does not attract much hostility from less ideologically motivated opponents. The narrative needs to stress issues designed to mollify social conservatism predominant across Moroccan households; The idea that improving standards of living can lead to a more progressive social mindset should be the centrepiece of the Radical discourse. Civil Rights can only be enjoyed with a good meal, a decent home and an interesting job. But this is not enough, it remains too abstract for everyone to adhere.
There is a population in this country working just as hard as everybody else, yet it pays commensurately more taxes, loses on its purchasing power over the last decade. The middle/median class is the perfect group of people the Radical Left should be embracing by providing policies designed to strengthen its income, future, security and standing in society. I suppose all of the Radical Left-wingers are Marxists, so perhaps it is a good time to leave out the philosophical trolling, and go for policy proposals that go to what shapes up social interactions and structures, the economy itself. In simple words: “It’s the Economy, Comrade.“
A quick-and-dirty post:
Note:for the record, the inflationary number of political parties in Morocco compels me to delineate exactly each party’s name.
PT: Parti Travailliste (centre-left)
UC: Union Constitutionnelle (neo-liberal right)
MP: Mouvement Populaire (conservative right)
PS: Parti Socialiste (populist-left)
PGV: Parti de la Gauche Verte (environment-left)
RNI: Rassemblement National des Indépendants (centre-right)
PAM: Parti Authenticité et Modernité (ultra-monarchist)
PRV: Parti de la Renaissance et de la Vertu (moderate islamist)
This is great, isn’t it? This Alliance for Democracy gathers a super-caucus of 156 seats, an a motley of parties from across the political spectrum: Benâtik and Bouzoubâa are very close to labour-unions (a handy card if this coalition ever gets to form the next government) and could manage to broker deals for any future painful spending cuts; Laenser, Mezouar and Biadillah are leaders of large political parties with a nationwide representation, strong caucuses and extensive government experience, Khalidi, a former PJD member, could well prove to be an experimental device for moderate Islamists in government (I would personally follow with great interest what Representative Abdelbari Zemzami, a PRV member, could do as a Habus and Islamic Issues Minister) as for Dr. Farès, I suppose the alliance needed the “Democratic Left” brand, since the Green Left Party has been founded by Omar Zaïdi, a former Radical leftist and member of PSU (and the amazing thing with leftists, they do not completely sever ties with former comrades, yet another handy backroom channel)
Is this motley of political parties likely to win an election? The law of electoral mathematics in Morocco knows no Euclidean constraints: in 1977 and 1984, respectively Independent and UC candidates wiped the electoral floor with older and much more organized parties. The parallel is not very accurate, but the Koutla, save perhaps for their respective pre-independence history, cannot claim to be anywhere more homogeneous than this Alliance. Plus it displays clear lines between Senior/Junior partners: Assuming this alliance retains a similar number of seats, it is a safe bet to assume it will hold itself together all the way up to 2016.
What about the other parties? USFP and Istiqlal will feel genuinely threatened by the PAM-UC-RNI-MP core alliance, and will try to seal a deal by reactivating and strengthening the old-times Koutla, perhaps by including Khyari’s FFD, or even seriously reconsider their position with PJD. The latter is even more threatened by any electoral bloc that would, in effect, put it in an unconformable minority position.
Political leaders, it seems, are beginning to understand a free-for-all isn’t going to work. The leader of a political alliance, on the other hand, has reasonable chances to become the next Head of Government. We shall expect announcements on future electoral alliances very soon.