Building a New Progressive Coalition – Looking for New Partners
Koutla, Middle Class civil servant, Unions and radical activists. Give or take, this is the progressive coalition since 1956: contentious, heterogeneous, ready to sell out to seemingly ideological adversaries, and yet much keen to take to the high ground whenever the opportunity arises – USFP’s latest turncoat in opposition is a sight to see. These are just crude generalizations, though I can also provide specific instances of what seems to be an unstable coalition: the first cracks showed with the 1997 Alternance. And quite so, each partner had a divergent agenda, and what is more, there is a constant inner struggle between political organizations to take control of each others; energy initially thought to be devoted to further the ideal of progress was instead diverted into petty politics.
The first progressive coalition to emerge in post-1956 Moroccan election was the UNFP-UMT-ALM triumvirate: one political party, one party and one liberation armed organization. But it quickly turned out into a UNFP-UMT Doppleadler with little success to take over power by peaceful -nut not necessarily democratic- means: elections were rigged, and chances of a successful general strikes were stifled by regime oppression or union officials equivocations about their role as defenders of the “Masses”. What follows delivered serious blows to that coalition: student activists split from left-leaning parties, moderate elements from the same parties distanced themselves: 23 Mars and Ilal Amam in the early 1970s, USFP in 1972-1975 and CDT Union in 1978 are all striking evidences of that inherently fragile coalition for progressive values.
History still leaves its fingerprints over the sorry state of progressive thinking in Morocco: sorry because two large, governmental left-leaning parties have long lost been discredited, and the host of smaller left-leaning parties have been blinded by -or made themselves blind with- Feb20 glitter of rejuvenation. Although I should mitigate this by stating the pre-2011 balance of power: the 2007 Elections have seen all left-leaning political parties garner 67 seats -on par with the RNI-UC alliance, and 21 more seats compared to the PJD caucus. In fact, the Moroccan left could have carried a lot more seats (about 120) has it decided to run unique candidates to stand for parliament, and carried some 1,232,024 votes back then – some 23.66% of all electoral votes.
How about the middle class civil servants? they made up until recently (say 2002) a sizeable chunk of the progressive coalition electorate; not out of love for progressive ideals, but perhaps because the liberal discourse in Morocco emphasised for a long time the need for fairness, the left has been advertising itself as a defender of the underdog; needless to say the underdog/populist discourse was echoed by union bosses as well: Noubir Amaoui CDT (former?) boss, a former schoolteacher, managed through populist and strong-worded speeches to make many Moroccan civil servants to identify with him. Paradoxically, that progressive coalition went even more fragile with the mid-late 1970s when the more moderate elements (USFP and later on OADP with the early 1980s) ditched their hard-liners, and accepted to go alone with the conservative elements; the Koutla from 1970 to the early 1990, formed on the premise of a ‘reasoned’ alliance to prepare for a peaceful alternative, traded ideological coherence for murky common historic struggles. The progressive coalition nowadays relies heavily on the new breed of activists, very much into Human Rights and specific causes; it tends to hurt more than anything else the coalition itself, because it inevitably falls into parochial interests: for sure, a small-coalition interest can do with specific issues, but this is a coalition with a self-allocated task of bringing people together, or indeed to be as inclusive as possible; needless to say, narrow -sometimes obtuse- dadas tend to alienate a lot of potential supporters of the progressive coalition.
The first example to come to mind is this strange union fetishism: every left-wing party, from USFP to Annahj, tends to try very hard to take over a specific union to make it its own . This may be so because of an inherited -but no longer true- perception of unions’ political strength. This might also explain why USFP for instance never bothered to put forward a much needed Strikes and Industrial Relations bill in parliament when in office for the last 14 years to fill in a void ongoing since 1962.
Human Rights issues were a good bet in 1979, when AMDH was founded, perhaps well into the early 2000s, too. But an HR obsession could -if it has not already- damage political activism in 2012. There is nothing wrong to stand for Human Rights, in fact, it is a noble pursuit that honours those who care for it. But there is a danger of depriving the mainstream discourse, more specifically the liberal and progressive discourse from any other topic worthy of public debate, thus permanently labelling every left-winger in Morocco as a potential “Looney HR”. It also induces the coalition to go into all-out opposition to the regime, because Human Rights violations occur inevitably (and more often that possible bearable). These abuses must be publicized and their perpetrators held accountable, no doubt about it, but by doing so systematically, the most committed members of that coalition fall into some kind of miserabilisme and tend to get blind-sided too: who cares about private monopolies cashing-in juicy profits when one (second-rate) pro Feb20 rapper is imprisoned?
All-out opposition is also a killer, within as well as outside institutions: USFP -and to some extent, CDT and UMT- are represented in parliament, and recent news indicate the opposition caucus will be bitching a lot. As for extra-parliamentary opposition, and for all the talk about democracy and power to the people, their activism tends to side with the more obvious victims/dissidents: a rapper, a world champion boxer, the unemployed graduates, all of which drives the left-leaning pro-democracy platform into supporting narrow interest at the expenses of a wider, more comprehensive reform agenda.
I would argue the progressive coalition has a huge potential in claiming back popular mandate: while it is true voters can be very shifty in their voting patterns, it is always possible to assume they would go back and vote for a particular candidate given some prerequisite indicators of good faith.
Rabat, Casablanca, Tangiers and Agadir urban rings, long held by left-leaning candidates, concentrate now about 5 Mln urban voters and carry some 47 seats. In addition, Benimellal, Khouribga, Kenitra, Taounate, Alhuceimas, Taza, Tetuan, Fez and even Guelmim, at one point or the other in history, have been either carried by a left-leaning party or the aggregate left-leaning votes have captured a sizeable majority. In terms of current electoral votes, that’s 82 seats, almost PJD’s strength by the 2011 elections. Demographics changed meanwhile, to be sure, but the progressive coalition ought to outperform PJD’s victory – especially since both share similar constituencies.
My point is, the coalition needs to be radically rebuilt and distance itself from the old “National Movement”: in with the fresh up-and-coming, out with the decrepit, and old. And that means specifically the Koutla has outlived its supposed term limit.
Most importantly, agree on a wider platform that transcends parochial interest, which makes it more urgent to widen the coalition to a new constituency.