Going down with style, PSU Boycotts Nov.25 Elections
One has to hand it to the comrades: when they go down, they do so in style indeed. late Yesterday, PSU National Convention voted in favour of boycotting November 25th elections. This piece of news, just like any other, has its bad and good spins. Good news, PSU has been, as usual, very open about its proceedings, and the decision to boycott was openly and democratically discussed. If this isn’t free and open partisan democracy, I don’t know what is. Bad news, too, as fellow Blogger Omar El Hayani pointed out (bitterly)
Et merci au @PSU_Maroc de nous donner le choix entre voter pour un parti makhzanéen ou un autre parti makhzanéen…
— Omar El Hyani (@O_El_Hyani) September 18, 2011
Anyway, by doing so, PSU and the Democratic Alliance lose some support among the more moderate of sympathisers and likely voters. On the other hand, these live (or are registered) in districts PSU candidates, whatever their fame and statutes, will never carry. The decision to boycott elections was, I suspect, a counter-move to appease allies on the left, and perhaps a bid to confirm party strength by postponing the crucial question of radical dissidence or moderate opposition. I fear that with the high spirits gathered during weekly demonstrations, some old-guard PSU are rekindling with their far-left youth. Nostalgia is alright, but not to the expenses of compromising the build up of a strong democratic left-leaning party.
I still believe that boycott decision is just a temporary setback. Come the 2014-2015 local elections, PSU and its Democratic Alliance partners can engage into meaningful campaigning and carry genuine popular support by trying to prove they are fit for office. I submit that a strategy disparaging parliamentary elections as idle and inefficient, while advocating local elections are the real popular test to submit to, is a winning strategy, both on the medium and short run. As for any illusions on the regime’s strength and viability, the impact of boycott on behalf of the radical left remains, truth be told, peripheral.
Yet, for all the unobliging comments the decision has triggered (among others, on the twittoma) the Radical Left can, whenever possible, show some strong numbers when it comes to elections. Once labelled elitists, Left-leaning activists can carry seats other parties fail to woo; Indeed, the candidate’s personality and charisma matter a great deal, but when ideological commitment is conjugated with those essential ingredient, the Radical Left manages to build itself safe strongholds on the electoral map. I suggest it would be a shame to lose both parliamentary and local electoral base there. And I do hope the leadership will have keen insight on the matter. Sooner or later, PSU and its allies (including Annahj by the way) will have to confront itself to the electoral litmus test, and prior local activism or elected offices are going to be crucial to deal with local Moul Chkaras, or very active PJD operatives in the area.
Since they first contested elections in 1984, the average turnout carried by New Left candidates hovered around 150,000 votes. Though the high watermark was recorded between 1993 and 1997, the numbers held steady in 2002, and have even risen in 2007, considering how all major political parties (including PJD) lost votes in the process. And yet, the New Left still fails to rise above the 5-6 seats-odd in parliament house, when its electoral base allows for a dozen seats, even 25-30 commensurate to their electoral base. Indeed, ballot system, and the features of New Left electorate doesn’t allow for an expansion in their caucus, unless the Alliance keeps on growing, a double-edge strategy, since accelerated alliances and mergers within the left-leaning field both provide it with momentum and seemingly political strength, but also makes collective endeavour in electoral competitions very hazardous: in 2007, the Alliance agreed on common tickets over 75% of all contested districts, and separate candidates in the remaining 25%. However, crucial constituencies (like Rabat) were hotly contested by party leadership, because of the symbolism it carries, and as a way to summon up the blood and exacerbate the feud with a weakened USFP. But overall, common campaigning finds favour with the electorate: in 1993, the Koutla effectively campaigned jointly on all districts, and found itself with 1/3 of total expressed popular vote, a result no coalition ever achieved before or after.
But coming back to the implications the boycott induces, I was referring to “going down in style“. Unless the party finds itself an alternative playing field, there is no way we can keep on taking to the streets every two weeks: the party needs financing, visibility on public outlets and measurable strength to submit the authorities to its will, or at least to make its voice heard with strong credibility. Annahj can afford to stand firm on its Refuseniks position because it does not function as a political party. PSU and PADS (and to a lesser extent, CNI) on the other hand, cannot.
The crucial point is, the boycott directive will not be massively followed (to the tune of 200,000 voters) and these released votes will either go into an invalidated ballot, or in favour of a third party.Thousands of these votes will go, depending on the contested district, to one party or the other. The argument is that once these voters commit to these third parties, a scheduled comeback will be as painful, as tedious and as costly as it gets for the new candidates. I suppose the 31 OADP candidates had a hard time looking for votes in 1984, as they have just made the transition from clandestine activism to “normalized” politics. It would have been best that long-term views prevailed over the temptation of getting dragged to the left over this boycott business. In this, I believe Mohamed Bensaïd Ait Idder was right in advocating to keep on campaigning:
Watching Mohamed Sassi and Najib Akesbi advocating (O so bitterly) for electoral boycott was akin to that of a disillusioned lover seeking revenge by vowing celibacy: it hurts twice, and only themselves are to be blamed for it. The 2007 and 2009 poor showing were wake-up calls: I understand the PSU enjoyed a great deal of popularity with many likely voters, and these might -just might- have gone to the polls and slip a ballot endorsing PSU candidates. Perhaps Profs. Sassi et Akesbi gambled upon this momentum to reach out for voters; they enjoy, after all, high profile publicity, immense respect across the political spectrum and with the general public (when they get to know them) and, in Akesbi’s case, a valuable electoral experience as a former USFP local board member in Hay Riad neighbourhood (Rabat). But there is a catch to a political campaign, in Morocco and elsewhere: the financial cost and risk for a candidate to undertake such an endeavour.
Because campaign funding schemes in Morocco are still rudimentary (either because candidates are old-school fund-raisers, or because of the restrictive set of regulations imposed on political funding) candidates frequently need to finance themselves, which involves either a strong belief in winning the seat, or at least to do a 3% showing, necessary to be reimbursed by State funding. PSU (and Alliance partners) failed to capture Rabat seats, and were further humiliated by not passing the 3% threshold. The same story goes for 2009. A university Professor on a MAD 150,000-200,000 annual tenure cannot afford to campaign every now and then, and systematically lose election and money. Boycott makes sense for both our leaders. But by saving money in Rabat, we lose Representatives. Lahcen Fathallah (Chtouka Ait Baha) El Mokhtar Rachdi (Jerrada) and Mhamed Abdelhak (Sidi Bennour-Ouled Frej).
We lose 475 local board members if the boycott applies equally to local elections. In short, an all-out boycott, for the sake of the principle, will loses the only remaining imperfect, but nonetheless the most trustworthy indicator of popularity/political strength, i.e. the electoral base. Supporting bi-monthly demonstrations might be a commendable thing to do, but it goes as far as alienate lukewarm support from otherwise potential activists, opinion leaders, funding sources, good will that isn’t readily available when PSU (and other members of the Democratic Alliance) decides to go back to elections.
Indeed I am not happy with my party’s decision. My dissatisfaction is not out of sheer alacrity for election campaigns, but because of the enumerated facts above, the single genuinely democratic party in Morocco, the party that allows open debate on important issues without stifling dissent (such as my good self in this case) cannot shut itself off the silent majority that might just be successfully wooed by the charms of our unique brand of partisan democracy. I do hope all these elements have been pondered during debate held last weekend during the Convention, and I remain nonetheless optimistic about the prospects. We might be going down with style, but this is not the first time the New Left manages a Phoenix-like comeback. We have started with 30,000 odd electoral base in 1984, we certainly can always do better. And we shall.
I assume this boycott thing is only temporary, just a signal that whatever the party’s support and its size, we are a force to be reckoned with (the party of ideas, for instance) As a matter of fact, we need time to settle down and ponder on the last few months. We need to prepare for an already much postponed conference to renew the leadership. We need to review in depth our political and economic message we try to get across. We need to shift the focus om more down-to-earth issues without losing out of sight those issues that made the “New Left” brand: deep institutional reforms. In a sense, the boycott might just well be this pretext we need to attend to these more urgent tasks. For sure, we have now conceded the next couple of matches to other parties, and this allows them to get the better of us. But then again, we have nothing but time to oppose to their watches. OADP always made it and muddled through in tougher years. We can do just as well.
“I’ll Be Back” General Douglas McArthur, Philippines, 1941.