The Moorish Wanderer

Moroccan Elections for the Clueless Vol.6

“The Happy Warrior”

The Far-West of Moroccan Politics

The great news is that we shall have at most three big blocks of political coalition competing for the next election. Whether the next Head of Government will be a coalition-builder or a whipping bully will be determined post ante, depending on the leader’s personality of course, but also those partners he would have managed to bring together.

The operating assumption throughout this post will be that the next government is likely to have more room for manoeuvre, and will be given an opportunity to run its own show (with little interference from above) As a matter of fact, competition is likely to be more intense if the office is worth it.

The first lesson of modern politics is more or less understood, even though the announcement of an alliance 6 weeks before elections smells of raw electioneering, with our politicians ready to do whatever it takes to get a grip of power before the fight (and not, as we usually witnessed, after the election itself) Next time, they will put some elaborate spin to make it look like a matter of high principles and noble politics.

So, rumour has it RNI is standing up as an Aunt’s Sally for PAM, as the leading partner of the Democratic Alliance. This is so in order to deflect criticism about Mr Cheikh Biadillah’s party (and through him, Fouad Ali Himma) leading – in all probability- the next government. Still, Mr. Biadillah can always claim the Prime Ministerial prize in the even of an Alliance landslide (because anything short of a 7% swing will be a quasi-defeat, as we shall see later on) Lest we forget, the third major partner in this coalition has yet to state his claim too, and could be in the position to ask for the leadership, considering his caucus’ size. Even though he seems quite content with his current (honorific) position as Minister of State, Mr Laenser is expected to get a senior ministerial posting in the event of an Alliance government (perhaps the Interior Ministry, in the even this “Sovereign Ministries” ridiculous concept is dropped altogether). Past press declarations on behalf of Mr. Abied, UC leader, have ruled himself out of a leadership bid by pushing for an alliance with PAM party (perhaps in exchange of a position in the cabinet, a return to government policies after a 20 years absence)

Assuming government coalition shifts to fit the electoral coalitions, the present parliament gives a slight advantage to the Alliance

At this stage, the Alliance Caucus has a plurality of seats, but not enough to claim absolute majority in the house. However, because it gathers large caucuses, it out-guns the standard Koutla and PJD added caucuses. Furthermore, and because constituency boundaries have not been changed much (or changed at all) those seats held by the Alliance are proving  to be a valuable asset: their constituencies are spread across the electoral map, with a heavy emphasis of the ultimate “Vote Winner” in Moroccan politics ever since 1960: the rural hinterlands.This is so because their electability ratio is, on average, lower than national mean and relative to their opponents, the Koutla and PJD. They even have a robust electoral base in or around large cities: Fès, an Istiqlal and PJD stronghold, is surrounded by MP-held districts (including that of Mohand Laenser Boulmane constituency) same goes for Casablanca where RCU (mainly UC) caucus control one seat out of four in the metropolitan ring.

The PJD leadership, the expected winner of the next election, knows their party is stretched to a maximum in terms of potential captured seats. They can always hope to gain a dozen more (and they can increase their caucus from 46 to around 60 quite easily) but cannot go beyond it, while retaining their outsider image and rigorous screening of candidates.  Their constituency has been more or less properly sized up with the 2007 elections, as they share similar constituencies with Koutla members (USFP and PI) or kick them out entirely: in Agadir USFP held forth, but in Casablanca and Rabat USFP has now only a token presence, Istiqlali Fès and Larache are seriously threatened by PJD. It is obvious then that any gains PJD would register on November 25th will be almost certainly be harvested on USFP and PI fields. Strangely though, that only makes a deal between Koutla and PJD even more plausible: after all, PJD board members did vote for Fathallah Oualalou (USFP) as Rabat Mayor, even though they had the votes to nominate one of their own. And it is precisely because of PJD’s willingness to negotiate with USFP and PI that a new Koutla could be envisaged to take the fight outside and up to the Alliance candidates on marginal constituencies.

Scenario 1: (hypothetical) negotiations fall short between Koutla and PJD.

Landslide Majority scenario for the Alliance

This is mother’s milk for the Alliance: because Koutla and PJD have to fight over similar constituencies, Alliance leadership can even go a step further by coordinating candidacies across the electoral map, so as to maximize their chances as the future government coalition;  they can, in effect, govern with a historic majority of more than 50% of house seats, and, supposing they have already worked out their cabinet appointments, would put to work their team right away.

Turnout could well play in the hands of the Administrative-Union-Moderate Islamists-Green Left coalition (more conveniently referred to as A8, no pun intended) a 7% favourable swing means a net gain of 23 seats, or, assuming an average turnout of 60%, around 650,000 votes to get the caucus growing at an absolute majority level. Could it be done? Quite possible, and the potential gains are very concentrated in urban areas: in Casablanca (including Minister Yasmine Baddou‘s own district) are up for grabs, Beni Mellal and Essaouira to point but a few (there’s also an opening in El Jadida as Rep. Khalid Hariry announced he wasn’t standing next election). As a matter of fact, about 3,400 voters per seat get to decide, on average, to where it should go; a 7% swing, in essence, remains a very plausible assumption, even with low turnout.

Scenario 2: Super-Koutla and the emergence of a two-coalitions system.

Perhaps the most exciting (yes, I know…) outcome would be the Koutla moving into its third version (after 1970 and 1992) by welcoming PJD to its bosom. It is not like they did not have the opportunity to rule out absolutely any future alliance. The joint interviews conducted by Driss Lachgar and Mustapha Ramid, as well as the vote of confidence in Mr Oualalou as Rabat Mayor by PJD board members shows that both at a political and local level, experiences of cooperation do exist, and both parties seem content with it.

Hung parliament, assuming both coalitions hold steady; the outcome might actually benefit partisan politics

As for Istiqlal, their egalitarian creed, mixed with their Allal Fassi-era social conservatism makes them workable and amenable partners to PJD. These strange bedfellows actually bring benefits to each others: PJD leader Abdelillah Benkirane admitted his party lacked the technocratic operatives needed to run a government; USFP and PI, on the other hand, can always hire some of those. In exchange, the old-Koutla members (including the PPS junior partner) retain their seats in parliament and government, though a bit diminished because of the new member’s rising start.

And so, the prospect of a hung parliament, with two coalitions holding 46-48% of total seats, should not be ruled out either. That’s where the Head of Government’s personality comes into effect; Because government coalitions in Morocco are notoriously weak: parties cannot enforce voting discipline, let alone enforce it at a coalition level. On the other hand, a strong-willed government leader (whether Super-Koutla or A8) with a dedicated cabinet team can carry out those policies they have been elected upon.

I would like to think that if these coalitions hold forth through the election and beyond, some new kind of politics, dictated by the need to stay in government (or at least avoid being denied  the perks of the office) could transform partisan politics into more stable (and dare I say, more ideologically homogeneous) government coalitions that would, within those constitutional constraints binding politicians, actual put together coherent policies, whether right-wing neo-liberalism or left-wing populism, we need a clear political playing field so as to determine responsibility, and so hold those implementing policies accountable to the will of their electors.

Both scenarios do not rule each others’ out: they are but two ends of an infinite variation spectrum. I might be growing more and more idealistic about parliamentary and government work, but so far, even though I loath almost all mainstream politicians up there, I believe it is counter-productive to systematically disparage and belittle their work. They are, after all, spending taxpayer’s money. A watchful eye and documented criticism might well change patterns of behaviour among the old boys.

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