The Moorish Wanderer

Who Vote(d) Progressive in Morocco?

I have recently come across some detailed figures on this website, most importantly the complete set of results from the 2011 legislative elections per province, and I wonder how they got hold of these (apparently Attajdid newspaper published them in full)

the story behind those figures is damning to the left: they have lost their historical stronghold a long time ago, and I can recall one statistical evidence that provides a sad indictment to the sorry state of progressive politics in Morocco: in 2007, USFP candidates garnered 2301 votes in Aïn Chok. In 2011, they managed to pull 2304, even as turnout jumped from 22,125 to 41,195. There is a large probability the same people turned out to vote USFP, even as parties like PJD and MP doubled their respective votes from respectively 7,493 and 3,067 to 20,849 and 6,579. This is from a city where UNFP and the progressive parties before 1997 usually carried 37% of the votes, an average of 86,000 votes per election since 1963. In 2011, the total votes in Casablanca for all competing left-wing parties was around 29,500 (6.1% for the Casablanca metropolitan area) an abysmal performance matched only by the 1977 elections, when neither USFP, PPS or UNFP/UMT managed to carry a seat there.

Historically however, the total score of popular vote garnered by all progressive-affiliated political parties is very close to PJD’s feat: PJD carried 22.8% of the popular vote, some 1,080,914 votes, and all left-wing political parties carried on average 1,135,281 votes. It would be interesting to identify those areas that have voted (or still vote) progressive since 1963. Perhaps the evidence shown later would confirm the urgent need to unify all of these political parties into one big tent. The chief benefit of a broad coalition is electoral maths: one party, or at least one cohesive coalition means the perverse effect of the Moroccan ballot system would be alleviated somewhat: two competing left-wing candidates are cancelling each others out. In 2007, the vote was split evenly between USFP and the PSU-PADS-CNI alliance in Essaouira: though both got a seat each, their combined 17,540 votes (out of 66,740) could have most likely carried a third seat from the 4 slots. In 1997, the aggregate progressive vote in Marrakesh was second only to Istiqlal, leaving behind RNI (73,777) and MP (50,800) but because it was fragmented between USFP, PPS and OADP, their electoral performance didn’t amount to much.

There is one instance where electoral cooperation produced impressive results: in 1993, USFP and Istiqlal stood with joint candidates, a strategy that yielded Koutla‘s highest performance ever since it was first formed in 1970: 36.2% with scores as high as 79% in Mohammedia, Essaouira (61.26%) and Alhuceimas (58.1%) Casablanca and Rabat-Salé averaged 56% of popular votes.

Perhaps my definition of ‘progressive’ is too biased: after all, it fails to account for the extra-parliamentary opposition, all those political parties with definite views on the parliamentary system (including PSU since February 2011). But I guess the best analogy to describe the state of the Moroccan left is that of the informal sector: the activity is out there, but because it operates beyond the legal framework, the correct appraisal of the sector’s contribution to legal GDP becomes difficult, if not impossible to perform. Left-wing parties operating outside the mainstream political competition (the electoral process, so to speak) contribute to the Moroccan political life, but because they refuse to submit to the only viable performance indicator around, i.e. elections, they do not influence mainstream politics. Polling is not a thriving business in Morocco yet, so general elections since 1963 are so far the only correct indicator as to how popular progressive and liberal ideas are with the Moroccan electorate. Official figures, electoral official figures in particular are hotly gainsaid by many in the opposition, and in many instances, their accusations are founded. This is an inevitable caveat: to talk about Moroccan elections in a serious fashion is to use official figures, and these are not always accurate. Still, in the absence of an alternative, one has to make do.

the progressive vote “migrates” away from large metropolitan districts to smaller, more rural seats (even a couple in the Sahara) especially since 1993

UNFP/USFP, FFD, PPS, PSD, CNI, PT, PADS, OADP/GSU/PSU, PS, PGVM are all left-wing parties (with explicit references to values of socialism or progress in their respective denominations) with a history of electoral campaigning and for most of them, at least one gained seat since their foundation. Together, they have held between 19.6% and 22.5% of parliamentary seats and 22.8% of popular votes since 1963. Nonetheless, the geographical distribution of their parliamentary caucus has changed a lot over the years. True, the Casablanca-Rabat-Agadir formed much of the middle-class stronghold upon which parties like UNFP, then USFP built their political strength, but there are other places where support has been random: Alhuceimas is the best example of a “swing province”: in 1963, no vote were cast in favour of UNFP, even as USFP and PPS carried about 25% of the votes in 1977, and 22% of all the votes went progressive in 2007, only to swing dramatically to other allegiances in 2011, with only 11.8% of the votes going to USFP, PPS and other competing political parties.

The electoral map shows steady patterns in the progressive vote, both disturbing and hopeful: Casablanca, Mohammedia and Rabat are no longer leaning left, and Agadir itself is becoming less prone to give its votes to the USFP-PSU/PADS/CNI tandem. In fact, these traditional strongholds of middle-class, unionised public service workers have been crumbling since 1993, before the Alternance Consensuelle: the nationwide performance of left-wing Koutla (USFP, OADP, PPS, PSD) in 1997 was around 36.5% of popular vote, but the breakdown per metropolitan areas shows a steep decline, obviously offset by gains from new constituencies in the South and rural hinterlands: Abdelwahed Radi carried around 43,100 votes in his Kenitra constituency for instance. The disturbing part is that mainstream progressives (USFP, PPS and perhaps FFD before 2011) have seen their core parliamentary seats shift from Rabat (7 out of 8), Casablanca (14 out of 31) to other places (the South mainly) leaving the already ambitious MPCD-turned-PJD ample room to fill in the void (in 1997, MPCD already held 6 seats in metropolitan Casablanca). The depressing part is the seemingly delibrate strategy by all left-wing parties (including the Democratic Alliance, with a strong showing in the Ouad Dahab district in 2007) not to take the battle to their former urban stronghold: Casablanca, Rabat, even Agadir are now lost battle to the USFP as well as smaller parties, should PSU or PADS ever go back into parliamentary elections. The obvious advantages to such strategy are easy to enumerate: the required number of votes to carry a seat are much higher in Casablanca than they are in, say Beni Hssen, or Guelmim. There is a clear-cut trend for both the governmental and democratic left in shifting their core votes (and seats) from urban to peripheral-urban and rural seats: their share in parliamentary caucuses has been constant since 1993, which belies the fact that left-wingers are no longer effectively representing their cherished public, the urban middle and working classes: these have been lost around 1993 already.

In many instances, the fact that up to 5 competing left-wing candidates are fighting each other off over 3 slots makes it a pyrrhic victory to however emerges. Sidi Bennour is a great example of how a united left can prevail: in 2007, the Democratic Alliance (PSU/PADS/CNI) garnered 10,559 votes, about as much as USFP as one can see:

SIDI BENNOUR OULED FREJ (226,379 voters)
Party                                Votes   %  Seats
Constitutional Union                 7,990  10.5    -
Independence Party                   9,737  12.8    1 
National-Democrat Party - Covenant  10,006  13.1    1 
National Rally of Independents       3,305  04.3    -
Party of Progress and Socialism      4,804  06.3    -
Popular Movement                     9,700  12.7    -
Socialist Party                      4,292  05.6    -
Socialist Union of Popular Forces   10,297  13.5    1 
Union PADS–CNI–PSU                  10,559  13.9    1 
Others                               5,534  07.3    -
Total                               76,224          4

and yet if both USFP and PSU/PADS/CNI managed to stand with one common list, they would have carried the third seat away from Istiqlal. Another interesting feature of the Sidi Bennour district is the turnout, down 10,670 from 2007 (76,224) to 2011 (65,554). Boycott, in that particular case showed clearly as those  AGD voters preferred not to go to the polling stations. There are 4 seats opened for the left down there simply because they can mobilise around 20,000 voters out of a 193,000. Obviously, they do not have the Rhamna juggernaut at their disposal: in 2007, the so-called independents under Fouad Ali Himma’s leadership carried all 3 seats for the Rhamna district with a whooping majority of 41,265 to a total number of voters around 56,755, a super-majority of 35,187.

regional contribution to historical average: populous regions still contribute more

I mentioned earlier that the historical trend in voting pattern bore depressing features. There are however signs of potential comeback: first, the aggregate vote in urban rings shows as a strong second or third. There is great potential however in smaller cities: Essaouira, Sidi Bennour of course, and other districts usually concentrated in Marrakech-Tensift-Haouz and Souss-Massa. The aggregate vote shows more than often potentially an additional seat should all progressive candidates stood on coalition platforms. In parliamentary arithmetics, that translates into a dozen additional seats from marginals (including PJD’s) and around 5 more with the national ballot automatic transmission effect.

A Koutla of the left can be achieved, and from what I have seen since 1997, there are around 30 districts (meaning, around 45 seats) where at least one party does not carry enough votes to cross the legal threshold for campaign reimbursement. A rational strategy would be to strike a deal in coordinating their choice of candidates, if indeed these parties cannot agree on a ready-made coalition platform.

But then again, as long as the old rivalries persist among all components of the Moroccan left, there is little hope a strong progressive parliamentary party will emerge and present itself as a viable alternative to the Makhzen as well as the PJD.