“Moul Chkara” and the Challenges for Moroccan Democracy
Two bits of news: PSU members are still quibbling over participation in November 25th Elections. These are moment when one just close their eyes and think of a remote island, with nothing to entertain oneself but J. Waterbury’s book, “Commander Of the Faithful”. And parties are fighting to endorse local notabilities reminds us that whatever the ballot system, whatever goodwill shown on behalf of every party in the game, local power-brokers will decide the outcome of a sizeable chunk of – about at least 1/3 of parliamentary 295 directly elected seats.
Truth be told, I was a resolute advocate of a partial boycott regarding elections, meaning, boycott general elections but participate en force in local elections; these are usually the most direct opportunity to work for the electorate: what can a handful of representatives do to their constituency, when they cannot pressure parliament and government to adopt amendments they see fit to improve the livelihoods of their constituents, and further the causes of the communities their support? Unless the opportunity of building up a sizeable parliamentary party is acquired, parliamentary representation has no direct political benefit other than sinking candidates finances and shackle them when they manage to carry the contested seat. By contrast, the position of local mayor or representative in the community council is a good springboard to earn some field experience, and build up legitimacy as a responsible, honest and efficient elected official.
The contradiction in boycotting general elections and going full speed in local ones is not inherent to the party’s position, but rather to that of the discrepancy between actual power in parliament and government on the one hand, and the parallel -no longer underground- structure bypassing seemingly elected officials. At local level, the one thing that actually makes a difference is that the electorate gets the opportunity to report on possible changes in their everyday lives: fixing potholes and maintaining public lights might be categorized as coalface politics, but that’s a necessary test “new politics” advocates need to take and pass in order to claim a larger, more nation-wide mandate from the Moroccan communities.
But whether we like it or not, the PSU Parliamentary and Board Community Party caucus (that is, elected MPs and members of local community boards) has a point there: the decision to boycott elections on November 25th is not endogenous to the party; Many party activists are pushing for it out of fear to lose speed with the Feb20. Movement, an endless spiral bod for who’s fitter to carry the radical message to the masses, among the left-leaning parties supporting the movement. This only exposes further the constant contradictions of a tribunite party (yes, PSU is populist and elitist at once…) I do hope the meeting scheduled for this week-end will, above all, maintain the party’s unity and symbol as a rallying flag to all young voters eager to engage in the new politics they feel would level up Morocco’s political playing field.
Elections on November 25th will not, in all likelihood, be the elegy of Moul Chkara. This vernacular refers to the local notability, whose influence and wealth can actually direct electoral outcome in specific constituencies: rural areas on the Atlantic coast and their hinterlands, the Sahrawi provinces and the North areas on the Mediterranean front, to mention but a few. These have been only too often labelled as the remaining signs of Basri-era (and Basri-style) elections, a blot on elections the authorities have been desperately trying to market each and every time as the “most-transparent-free-and-fair-elections-since-the-last-one”. And yet, it takes an original mind (or a particularly disconnected from real politics) to view the existence of Moul Chkaras all over Morocco as a potential opportunity. Their über-rationality would help.
The current modus operandi is relatively simple: local VIPs get elected themselves to represent their strongholds, no one can challenge out of financial superiority for instance. But eventually, age, or judicial and legislative threats take them out, though their influence resists what is essential a small dent on their status. So they push for the younger generations, their children. The example of Representative Mbarka Bouaida, elected on the Women’s list for RNI party, is eloquent: as the daughter of another representative (Tantan, RNI) and a local power-broker indeed. Soon, many more representatives will try and convince their better-educated, more tech-and-communications-savvy, children. If their offspring does not rise to expectations, they can always find themselves a spiritual son or daughter to endorse for their seat.
Next step requires a lot of change within the existing structure of local loyalties and intricacies of tribal politics; and if indeed these notabilities do devote their incredible power over their local communities to serve them as well, then even a left-wing candidate could have a shot at barren constituencies: for instance, a PSU-AGD candidate can carry easily Bojdor and locked it with 20,000 votes, a juggernaut landslide, provided local tribe chiefs meet over a nice sweet tea and convince them to endorse their bid for election, and through them, their support for a constitutional scheme that would give Sahrawi denizens a broader, larger autonomy in managing their local affairs, for instance. No bribe, no money, just influence and personal charisma and charms in the service of the Bojdor community and its local notabilities. Moul Chkara retains their status as power-brokers, and allocate their endorsement to those whose (non-monetary) argument swayed them.
Can it be done? I mean, can Moul Chkaras around Morocco be persuaded it would be best for them, and their communities to step aside and endorse progressive candidates? Again, ideology has little to do with it; Even Diplomatic Cables from the US Embassy pointed out the precedence of personality over political ideology:
------------------- Personality Matters ------------------- ¶9. (C) Residents, particularly in rural areas, often told our observers that they were voting for a person rather than a party. Most residents reported that they saw little to no ideological or political difference between the parties. If an individual was perceived to have worked for a neighborhood or was well respected then he or she stood to win support. Rachid Nanae, an out-of-work resident of a shantytown in the Ben M'sik neighborhood of Casablanca, told our observers that he voted for Jawdad, Mayor of Casablanca, because he had fixed the roads and provided other public works to the neighborhood. At the same time, party affiliation as a discriminator was not completely abandoned. Also from anecdotes from voters, the PAM appeared to reap many undecided voters because of the party's "newness" and/or the closeness of PAM de facto chief Fouad Ali El Himma to King Mohammed VI (Refs C and D).
Their pursuit of personal or parochial interest could prompt notabilities into endorsing progressive candidates, and these should certainly not feel guilty about it; After all, even Annahj high-raking officials are board members of UMTunion, a place where virtue is a scarce commodity.
The idea is to induce these local leaders into supporting our candidates over others, so as to free themselves from the grip of Interior Ministry officials: I suppose the local Caid or Governor will have a hard time taking on notabilities supporting fire-brand radical left-wingers (as a matter of fact, it did happen, in the UNFP good old days) Does it sound crazy? Yes it does, but it is currently the only way to build up nationwide local support, with a reliable source for money, contacts and influence.