The Moorish Wanderer

198 – How a Well-Mobilised Minority Can Make It To Parliament

Posted in Flash News, Intikhabates-Elections, Moroccan Politics & Economics, Morocco, Read & Heard by Zouhair ABH on January 16, 2012

This is the case for most liberal democracies: there is no actual need for an absolute majority of popular vote, and depending on ballot system, a relative minority can actually allow for a political organization to get into office. This is due to no impediment to free vote, but that’s how it work with representative democracies: whatever the ballot system, some votes are bound to be lost in the process, be it because of turnout, how majorities are required to be formed, or the structure of political systems (bi-partisan or multi-party system)

Consider the 1997 General Elections in the United Kingdom, widely considered to be a New Labour landslide -and it was, in every sense of the term: Labour managed to command a super-majority of 179 (i.e. 63% of seats) in the House of Commons with 43.2% of the votes. In fact, under the First Past The Post system in the UK, the winner needs not to carry 50% plus one vote in their constituency; all they have to do is carry one additional vote to top up their second.

So goes another landslide election in the UK :1983 saw Margaret Thatcher lead the Conservative Party to a large victory, with a majority of 144 (61% of the seats) but only 42% of popular votes. Consider another Parliamentary monarchy: the Spanish Elections of 2004, considered by many observers as a stunning upset for PSOE, were won with 42% of popular votes.

But then again, it is always possible to look for a smaller minority to win – as a matter of fact, there is an interesting quantitative measure that could help to rank ballot systems likely to deliver big majorities in representative institutions, but ultimately won on small relative majorities (and independent of any turnout figures): the Gallagher Index (a variant of the Chi-Squared statistic) is indeed very useful to illustrate my point; First Past The Post (FPTP) as the index points out, tends to magnify majorities – thus widening the gap between parliamentary majority and popular votes. And yet, FPTP is perhaps the most indicated ballot system for Morocco to make sure the smallest possible coalition; benefits from the ballot are obvious and would, in my opinion, offset the discrepancies in “representativeness”: a strong government accountable to the people, with a popular mandate that enables them to confront the unelected tier of power in Morocco.

And yet, even under the current system, it is very possible to have one party marshal enough votes to gain by themselves alone an absolute majority of seats. I’ve been twisting and torturing numbers long enough to make them tell the truth about the current ballot system: Proportional Ballot at a 6% threshold allows for a well-organized, well-financed and well-led political organization to get a majority of seats with only 17% of total registered votes, and only 11% of total potentially registered voters.

A Majority in parliament with a minority of votes is NOT un-democratic. It is representative democracy

Let us tell the story as simply as possible: There are, according to HCP figures, 22 Million adult Moroccans, and 13.6 Million of them are registered. Accounting for local ballot seats therefore, there is one representative per 44,600 registered voters, or 34,000 for all 395 seats. There are of course big discrepancies between, say voters in Sahara districts and those in Casablanca, for instance, but these do not affect significantly the final outcome.

A political organization contesting elections needs to carry at least 198 seats; since it seems national ballot replicates very closely national local ballot results, they need to carry 153 local seats of the 92 districts. In absolute numbers, it means 5.2 Million votes are needed to carry an absolute majority of seats. And there goes the first indicator of ‘small coalition’ winning lax requirement: there is a need for only 38.2% of registered popular votes to win a majority in local ballot, then magnified by the national ballots-slots.

But hang on: there is no need to carry all 34,000 votes per seats. There is the 6% limit embedded in the ballot system; so in reality, a candidate list needs only 32,000 votes; or, to be more precise, only half of those: the total number of votes per seat needs not to be carried in its entirety; in facts, the most stringent requirement for a winning coalition is to actually get exactly half the number of votes, i.e. 16,000 votes, so as to capture all slots per district.

And there it goes: on average, only 16,000 votes are needed to win seats; that means 2.4 Million are enough to capture 153 seats with 50% votes, and then 198 seats per national ballot replication. What turns out to be an outright majority in Parliament House carried at most 17.6% of popular vote. The more people abstain or cast a blank/invalidated ballot, the less votes a party needs to get a majority; a 50% turnout would require only 1 Million votes to command an absolute majority.

Does this sound fishy? Yes. And here’s why:

1/ is it 34,000 or 44,600 registered votes per representative? Both. In terms of overall parliamentary seats, it is 395 seats for 13.6 Million registered voters. But voters don’t get to vote on all 395 seats. They only have to choose for 305 seats; and so, the actual ratio per seat is 1:34,000. However, when a party carries a certain number of votes, they get a boost slightly more than proportional to the number of seats they get on national ballot, this is why the most significant number of votes is relative to the 305 local ballot seats; as a result, the number of votes needed to secure a majority (153) on local ballot is more than enough to get the 198 seats on the full 395 seats.

2/what about competition? turnout? the computations assume no particular configuration for political competition; meaning that the assumption of a maximum required majority per seat of 16,000 holds whatever the distribution of votes among rival candidates; it takes out insignificant votes (less than 6%) as per legislative description, and then just looks at the most stringent case, whereby the second candidate has fewer votes. In the standard Moroccan case, with a heterogeneous distribution of votes, the winning party needs a little less than an absolute average majority of 16,000. It is function of the smallest party, the closest to the 6% to compute the electorate coefficient conditions the required majority to capture all opened seats on a particular district.

Turnout is assumed to be 100% for a party to carry 16,000 votes. Obviously, the lower turnout is, the less constrained a party is in terms of absolute majority per seat. In fact, the required majority decreases at a higher rate compared to the observed turnout;

3/ how come PJD did not capture a majority of seats in November? They did get 1 Million votes with a 45% turnout, didn’t they? there goes the contradicting fact: PJD carried about 1 Million votes (according to a cited PJD source) and yet captured only 27% of total and local parliamentary seats.

First, the votes are not uniformly distributed across constituencies: that is, deviation from the theoretical 50% majority is too high to allow the popular vote significant impact on total carried seats. Some have been won with big majorities (I suppose the Head Of Government’s own seat at Salé was handsomely won) and others could qualify as marginals – meaning, with just enough votes above the local electoral coefficient to get the lead candidate a seat.

Second, while it is true 41% of all 92 districts offer 3-seats slots, PJD’s victory has been concentrated in large metropolitan areas (Casablanca, Tangiers and Marrakesh make up for 44% of their local-seats parliamentary caucus) where the ratio of votes per representative is actually higher; there is therefore a concentration of the Million votes in difficult areas; it is as though PJD candidates had a good reserve of votes, good enough to get an absolute majority, but these have been concentrated in difficult, vote-consuming constituencies, thus leaving little or no remaining votes for easier constituencies, hence the shortfall in absolute majority.

To Boycott, Or Not Boycott, That is not the Question

Posted in Flash News, Read & Heard, Tiny bit of Politics by Zouhair ABH on May 23, 2011

Yesterday has been a black day. It’s a setback for freedom of expression in Morocco, as for democracy, it has been already compromised by sad omens on the upcoming . In the rarefied circles of power, partisans of brute force seem to have now the upper hand.

A fellow blogger and friend of mine (who shall remain nameless) has recently appraised me of his decision to boycott the referendum. While I respect his stand, I was surprised. Surprised because I know him to be no Annahj, nor Al Adl sympathiser. And even though we disagree on a number of things and issues, we share a certain fascination for economic analysis, so it came as a surprise, when he told me he did not want to register. The explanation of such decision, as well as the methodology, so to speak, astounded me, simply because I have never heard of it.

A thing or two before I elaborate on that: I do not pretend to elicit some generalized pattern from my friend’s resolve not to contribute in any electioneering, nor do I have the pretence to assess the ‘mood of the nation’. This post is merely a pondered response to a hasty argument we had. I do hope there will be some reciprocation, so as to have a comprehensive view of this rather unusual boycott. Blog posts are much better than tweet snaps, I think.

My friend boycotted the registering campaign. I also understood he did not register for past elections (say 2009, 2007 and 2002 at least) so he is, quite simply, not existent as a voter and elector. Paradoxically, his all-out opposition to any kind of ‘compromise’ disenfranchised him. I don’t know if he buys into that idea that civics is a title one works out to qualify for it. but if one abdicates the right to vote, then there isn’t much left out of citizenship and civics, is there?

Worse still, his voluntary disenfranchisement does not hurt the façade of democracy he wants to do away with. Suppose a million potential voters, like my friend, reached the same conclusion, and decided not to register. Out of an electoral corps of nearly 14 Million, that is certainly no big loss. It only means one million less voters, certainly not one million blank votes, or one million-short turn-out. Because he did not bother to register, on the contrary, the yielded result is contrary to his initial aims.

Besides, that all-out opposition is almost farcical. When taken to its logical conclusion, my friend should basically renegade on his Moroccan citizenship. The argument goes as follows: Political ‘game rules’ are so biased I will not soil myself into accepting the rule-maker’s guidelines, so I will step aside. The trouble is, the very same lawmaker edicts game rules in many other ‘games’: Why accept the proceedings for ID Card, or Passport? Why did he accept to receive a Scholarship when he was student? Isn’t that an explicit recognition of the lawmaker and their supremacy over game design? And why, if he was so keen not to get involve with these rules, did he accept to submit to Moroccan regulations over one of the most important contracts he would have ever signed up for? The answer, it seems, is transparent: Because he was compelled to do it. Voting is voluntary, and the choice led to what I called ‘intellectual laziness’.

The word is perhaps too strong. Contrary to any stereotyped ideas about it, intellectual laziness is a very logical, very thorough process. It is basically a cost/benefits analysis. His position can be summed up in the following question: “Why bother to vote in a referendum, if nothing new or more congenial to my own definition to democracy comes out of it?”. The cost of registering, campaigning or just trying to link up with acquaintances and convince them to follow suit is time consuming and costly in resources and efforts. Besides, here’s a very simple and cost-free way to rebuke the façade democracy Moroccan regime tries so hard to put on; Low turnout and high blank votes. Better still, define yourself out of that herd-like electoral corps, and break away as a free (wo)man.

This is intellectual laziness because the benefits of staying out of political confrontations (on ideas, projects and ultimately, streets) are overweighted compared to the incurred costs in following a different course of actions. My friend, it seems, does not understand he is, whether he likes it or not, part of Pareto’s “non-governmental elite”. Perhaps Elite embodies too much connotations as a word; Some sort of alternative ruling apparatus. He has a duty not to shrink away from these things;

My criticism -because that’s what it is, though there is no anger behind it- is rooted in the fact his gesture is futile. He wanted to boycott the referendum, but he only managed to mute his own voice by not registering. Others found time to go to the registering booth, put their names down on the list, and vowed, on Referendum Day, not to turn out to vote, or put on the ballot a blank vote. This is real boycott, and the political message carried out has a meaningful impact. A low turn out and/or a high proportion of blank votes is always a slap on the face of our much adorned image of ‘Regional Exception’, and is difficult to spin around as the symbol of contentment among Moroccan citizens. So my friend and colleague not only muted his own voice, but by doing so carried no significant political message to the regime. Not only does he fail to use his citizen right, but he managed to cut himself out of it. It’s mother’s milk for the regime if guys like him do not bother to register altogether, because no one pays attention to the size of electoral votes relative to potential voters. Media attention focuses on turnout and blank votes, nothing more.

I do hope he will reconsider his position; It ‘s too late to register again, but in his own mind, this idea of refusing to have anything to do with the regime as a proof of ‘intellectual resistance’ is adulterated by logical flaws. Whether we like it or not, our political regime is well established and dug in. It has loyalties (paid for or genuine) and has all monopolies of symbolic power. Resistance is not to step aside of the whole structure, but to step in, register and then, following each one’s state of mind, vote in favour, against or boycott the referendum. To refuse the right to vote, on the other hand, has no use.

A Citizen’s Gesture

Fellow blogger @Larbi_org used to exercise his wit at my expenses: intellectuals are all talk and talk, but no walk. First off, I have to say I am honoured to be bestowed such a title (I don’t mind the negative connotation attached to it, and as a matter of fact, the title would do nicely as a badge of honour)  What I do crave, on the other hand, is the rough-and-tumble of political campaigning, the engagement with the electorate, that enticing feeling of uncertainty when the local policeman or mokhazeni is likely to bark his orders forbidding ‘political agitation on the street’… And even though I am at the moment an expatriate student, I do have now the opportunity to take the argument to field application, so to speak.

This is going to be the moment of truth: All past referendums have been muted campaigns, a constant media hammering for a ‘Yes’ Vote (Those who experienced some of them surely remember ‘صوتوا بكل حرية على نعم’) and any brazen attempt to call for a contrarian opinion, or even worse, to call for a boycott were either jailed or beaten out of the street. I would like to wager the present security officials are not that dumb, and will allow some sort of dissident expression over the matter. Whatever the outcome in June, the constitutional draft is bound to satisfy some, dissatisfy others. The former will call for a vote in favour of yet another more democratic constitution, while the latter will usually split between those who vote against (not because they were content with the earlier version, but because they had wanted a different constitutional modus operandi) and those who gainsay the whole system, maximalists eager to inflict upon the regime some sort of rebuttal by trying to get the largest amount of people to boycott what they consider to be a political farce.

This is democracy, and plurality of opinions is to be expected, whatever comes out from the June deadline. Many of my friends and acquaintances want to adopt a wait-and-see attitude before making their minds up over the referendum, and I do respect their prudence. As for me, and because I know no good can come up from ageing and conservative law scholars, my mind is already made up. (right from March10th, actually). This, however, is partisan politics. There is a higher level, upon which the argument is no longer between the Yes and No, but between Participation and Boycott. I like to think civic behaviour dictates all of us should participate to the referendum, but again, the pro-boycott are entitled to their opinion, and should be respected. But to the undecided (and there is no need for polling to know they represent a majority of likely voters) these are the ones that need to be convinced of registering; And more precisely, those of us, expatriated students.

As of today, as a Moroccan citizen, a students’ society member and as a party member -in that order- I am campaigning to sign my fellow Moroccans up for the referendum. As you may know, the authorities are renewing their electoral listings (closed on May 21st), and it is an opportunity for those of us who did not vote on earlier referendums or elections, as well as for those who moved out in between elections, to register and make their voices heard.

My little stand, my little contribution to civic nihilism.

As an expatriate student, it is quite hard to doorstep fellow students and countrymen in exile, and convince them to take a day off and head to the nearest consulate (sometimes located very far from their domiciles) it is also hard to convince people just to vote; remarks like “why bother?” or “I don’t know what to vote for, better wait till June” are all sensible objections to what is seemingly a romantic stand on democracy and civics, but there remains the crucial point to be made: we need to make our voices heard.

Many of those who read past posts know I am voting ‘No’ in any case (save the one when M. Menouni decides to grow some balls and come up with a ground-breaking, earth-shattering memorandum such as this one) so why bother in trying to sign people up? many of whom are likely to vote ‘Yes’ because, well… it’s a new constitution. Don’t I have a vested interest in trying to sway the people’s votes and get them to see my own way?

Indeed I do. But that’s the beauty of applied democracy: what matters now is not what to vote for, but why bother turning out to the polling station (in my case and in the case of those I am appealing to, a consulate) and vote for something that, in all probability, does not affect the everyday life every one of us is carrying out with.

In short, pluck up your courage, gather all your civic spirits, your ID Card, Passport and Residence Permit (if applicable) and head off to the nearest Moroccan consulate, wherever you are. You owe it to your country and fellow citizens.

Polling The Numbers

reforme.ma is a very useful website. Its structure does not help, especially when using a facebook interface with comments from any user on everyone of the 108 articles is counter-productive; judging from the de facto mini-forum on each and every relevant constitutional article, I think the webmasters’ views are not being vindicated here, and so I don’t know if it is the best way to go down the debate on the constitutional reforms.

Furthermore, there’s little information: is it a government-sponsored initiative? Or is it the brainchild of a very enthusiastic web-citizens? Or a little of both? Anyhow, web-users should indeed feel grateful such an initiative took place. And I, among all others, have an additional motivation to feel grateful. Merci. This is a laudable initiative, whatever the person or organization behind it, mainly because it provides raw data more or less adequate for some polling computations. This is not criticism per se, but I just need to square things up about the data itself, and then the way I am putting it to use.

First, I am not a pollster -I know a couple of things about it due to a training I received some years ago- but it seems to me, for all its first-hand quality, this data is very messy, from every aspect of it. For one, asking people to vote Yes/No on every article (and there 108 of them) is not the best way to take the nation into confidence, so to speak. The binary choice tears apart any nuanced views on specific constitutional stipulations, and in matter of constitutional law, so I am told, there’s a great deal of nuance (what I call blurriness) to be observed in the enunciation of such legislation. The set of data therefore loses a great deal of its strength in understanding the kind of believes Moroccans nurse toward their own constitution.

There’s also the problem of sampling: to this date, and according to the website statistics, 144,171 likes/dislikes votes were recorded (and 2647 comments too). Now, the number itself is large enough to qualify as a working sample. and one can reasonably argue randomness properties can be observed with a sample of this size. But in real life, the voting sample’s representativeness is biased, and that is so for many reasons. First, there’s gainsay whether 144,000 physical voters did click on the ‘vote’ button. I personally did not vote down or in favour all articles, and as it happens I voted from two computers (or shall we say from two different IPs) as well.

That’s the mess, and it gets even messier when considering the voting population: no idea about their basic specifications, e.g. gender, demographics, education, geographical location, political allegiances or leanings, etc…. We can also be sure that there are large scores of Moroccan population that are left out of the process: how many of these voters already experienced a referendum in their life? How many voted yes or no on the 1962 referendum? How many of them are illiterate?  What about the rural community or any community with a lower internet connection penetration rate? It is great to record the markedly improved figures ANRT (Agence Nationale de Réglementation des Télécommunications) publishes on internet connection, but surely there are substantial caucuses left out of this informal polling.

Note: I am being very harsh both on the idea of using this data for polling and on the validity of what I will present the readers with, but that is out of intellectual probity. I admit my interpretation will be somewhat partisan (beautifully argued with the use of statistics, but nonetheless skewed towards my side of the story) but then again, it will be the first serious attempt to prize up the nation’s shape of opinions.

Before we get down to business, I noticed a few outstanding votes on some articles, and even more remarkable instances of sensitive ones:

Article 19 has 55% votes in favour (with 45% against) but those with intermediate knowledge in statistics know error margin considerably reduce this seemingly clear win for Art.19 on a sample of 3189 votes (less than 160 votes could swing it back) (I was surprised by how narrow votes were on that particular constitutional roadblock)

Article 21 also shows a similar narrow voting (57% in favour indeed, but that could easily scale back to 50% for a 125 votes swing)

Article 23, on the other hand has a clear win (even with a 5% margin error, 67% is way out of the the error interval, as it takes a swing of 532 votes) and it is quite surprising to record a clear vote down on the article that enshrines the most His Majesty. Other outstanding votes are related to government prerogatives with substantial margins: Article 24 and 25 voted down with respective margins of 84% and 74%. Article 29 that delineates Dahir prerogatives is voted down as well, with a margin of 78%.

Large margins on specific articles, and those relative to the King's prerogatives are surprisingly NOT having the voters' favour

The general configuration of the current constitution is very surprising, and as far as I am concerned, very encouraging (as far as web users are concerned). Unless one is thinking all, or shall we say a substantial part of these voters are Algerian, Zionists, or even Libyan agents provocateurs, those who disliked the Kings powers, namely Articles 24 to 29 (basically the core of His Majesty’s prerogatives) and others on the side, that give the King a greater leverage, on appointing judges, or even chairing seemingly marginal constitutions. Again, setting aside the conspiracy theory, there is a large number (perhaps even larger than the historical 9%) that are fed up with the disproportionate concentration of powers in the royal hands.

What is even more extraordinary, the spread is even larger -in favour of Nay votes- in these very specific articles (24 to 29, 33 and 83 to name a few) and by large spread, I refer to a margin in favour larger than the Yay votes. On the other hand, other dispositions were voted down, related to Parliament as well as Government responsibilities and powers.

This is very encouraging and frustrating at the same time. But first, I should voice my frustration with this web-consultation, not because of its shortcomings, but because it simply underlines the cruel lack of polls in Morocco. Legislative obstructions, defiance towards such interviews from the public, and perhaps a misapprehension of market perspective from polling companies are but a few parameters that can account for the ridiculously low number of polls run in Morocco. This website has done an excellent job in shedding light on it.

I mentioned above the results are encouraging: it means a certain population -whose salient properties remain unknown, unless I can find time to screen 2647 + facebook and twitter profiles,  a certain population that can be receptive of either calls for boycott or voting down (a Nay-l on the coffin of this commission. Pun-time) the draft constitution. It is also frustrating because there is no guarantee whatsoever this commission would hear my voice (read my lines, to be more precise) or draw the accurate conclusions from such vote.

The nihilists are coming, and they are coming to your town… (Let’s see if there’s a post-March 20 spike…)