The Moorish Wanderer

By-elections: a Case Study

This is a great opportunity for me to apply some of the computations I have elaborated on when I started to lay out the 2016 electoral map.

Al Ahdath Newspaper mentioned 12 seats (from 10 districts) where up for a by-election by next week, and I cannot find all of these, as I have managed only 7, and 2 others I am not sure are indeed contested as well (both PJD). Or perhaps the 12 seats mentioned comprise also those in Tangier-Assilah and an additional seat in Marrakesh-Menara:

909/2012 PPS – Youssoufia

908/2012 PI – Sidi Kacem

907/2012 PA – Azilal-Demnate

906/2012 UC – Settat

905/2012 MP – Moulay Yacoub

888/2012 MDS – Chichaoua

878/2012 USFP – Inzegane Aït Melloul

858/2012 PJD – Hay Hassani

898/2012 PJD – Menara

As I have mentioned several times before, many parties have ‘marginal seats’, i.e seats with barely enough votes to cross the minimum electoral coefficient. And these are more likely than others to fall next election. And as it happens, a couple of these are in play: UC, PA, USFP and PPS could lose their seats with a few hundred votes. But, having a marginal doesn’t translate into a higher probability of losing the seat. Indeed, the following probabilities computed on the basis of each party’s past electoral performance show this is not systematic.

Union Constitutionelle member of parliament Abdellatif Mirdas  for Sidi Kacem, whose seat will be contested is a good example to illustrate my point. He has managed to get a little under 6,000 votes and was subsequently the bottom of the list, very close indeed to the 6% threshold (about 4,800 votes) and his local electoral performance was by any measure a very good one for his party. Yet for this by-election, his majority is very slim indeed. Assuming a turnout similar to 2012, he has an 85.58% chance of losing his seat; roughly the same likelihood of not making it to the 6% threshold. This is not a very informative probability because it is unconditional on the district itself; so there is a need to normalize this probability with local turnout, and how close the party candidate is to the 6% threshold. Adjusting for these elements, UC has therefore a little under 70% chance of losing the seat.

I would suggest this method is naïve Bayesian actually: the probability \mathbb{P}(V_t<V) denotes the probability of getting at most the same number of votes they have got in 2011. It is then finessed by taking into account local factors, and then conditioned (rather than just observed) on past electoral performance, local 6% threshold, turnout, etc: \mathbb{P}_j(V_t|V_{t-1})=\prod_{i=1}^{n}\mathbb{P}_{i,j}(N_{t,i}|\{N_{t-k,i}\}_{k=K}^{0})

The table below uses these computations for the three other parties, although the results for PA and MDS are not as statistically significant as I would like them to be, but it seems many of these seats are going to be very competitive, and many are very likely to change hands. I have also used the same method to compute the likelihood of the other parties whose seats are not marginals, with some tweaking, mainly by normalizing probability to present turnout and when applicable, threshold effect per seat.


Whatever the end result, there will be no big change in parliamentary caucuses – not the largest caucuses, any way. On the other hand, there is good evidence to suggest competitive by-elections in perhaps all but one district (MP- Moulay Yacoub) I will fire off a next blogpost offering some insight as to which parties enjoy the largest probabilities of carrying these seats.

PJD’s “Pocket Landslide”

Posted in Flash News, Intikhabates-Elections, Morocco, Read & Heard, Tiny bit of Politics by Zouhair ABH on December 8, 2012

A little over one year after PJD‘s victory, it would be interesting to look at what is already their electoral legacy, or indeed the lack of real appreciation of how important it is. Not matter how past electoral results come under criticism, they have been de facto the law of the land – whatever the real results following the 2002 elections, all parties agreed to the official results, and these have been validated as such. And it would be better, I think, if this criticism was laid aside, especially since the 2002 election did give PJD a clear win, were it not for the diluting proportional ballot.

Majorities are 'easier' to form when the ballot system weighs in pluralities in districts

Majorities are ‘easier’ to form when the ballot system weighs in pluralities in districts

In general terms, I describe a method that points to majority-based ballot system as a good indicator of how political parties can improve their probabilities of forming a government by themselves, thus delivering stable governments and even more stable parliamentary majorities.

PJD’s victory in 2011 was a pocket landslide because the party was 65 seats short of an absolute majority – even if it was well ahead of its nearest competitor. A majority-based ballot system could have delivered the absolute majority they needed. Their feat was only matched by the joint USFP-PI 1993 campaign. Unfortunately for PJD, they are in a coalition with parties directly (and adversely) affected by any re-districting, or majority-based ballot system. (read here the theoretical argument against coordinated effort among political parties)

This is how I compute these majorities: for a particular district, all of the seats are allocated to the party with a plurality of votes. The simplest, crudest rule of politics – and poker: winner takes all. On the basis of this principle, the electoral map since 1963 is radically changed. I further consolidated party performances by aggregating split-offs – which leads to 13 big ‘partisan conglomerates’ – and these results tell a story: a consolidated political competition over parliamentary control allows for larger probabilities of reaching an absolute majority (in the cases of seats open for local ballot) and these contradict the final outcomes observed over the past couple of elections; for one, the 1997 Alternance would have been led by Istiqlal instead of USFP, and 2002, not 2011 would have been PJD’s coronation. But then again, efficiency is not Morocco’s forte.

These results can then be compared against the probabilities of each party to get a majority of the votes. These probabilities are computed on the basis of past electoral results – with increasing weightings for more recent electoral campaigns. And I am pleased that up to 92% of the historical results are explained by the following, rather simple linear model: V(\max_{i,j})=\sum\limits_{p_{k,i,j}}^n\alpha_k \mathbb{E} \left[V(P_{k,i,j})\right]+\epsilon_{k,i,j}

where \alpha_k the estimated probability for a party k to get the plurality in a district i. These parameters need not sum over 1, because there are a lot of cross-party historical votes. This confirm my earlier claim about PJD’s robust position on its 2016 prospects, as well as the need to go for a majority-based system – some parties have clearly more chances to get the majority, while others do not (those have been taken out of the fitting because of the statistical insignificant results)

      Source |       SS       df       MS              Number of obs =     153
-------------+------------------------------           F(  6,   147) =  292.75
       Model |  5.1894e+10     6  8.6491e+09           Prob > F      =  0.0000
    Residual |  4.3430e+09   147  29544400.6           R-squared     =  0.9228
-------------+------------------------------           Adj R-squared =  0.9196
       Total |  5.6237e+10   153   367564886           Root MSE      =  5435.5
         max |      Coef.   Std. Err.      t    P>|t|     [95% Conf. Interval]
     pnd_pam |   .2806256   .0863479     3.25   0.001      .109982    .4512693
     rni_ind |   .4540341   .1007729     4.51   0.000     .2548834    .6531848
    mpdc_pjd |   .5029201   .0445715    11.28   0.000     .4148364    .5910038
          pi |   .3938989   .0974869     4.04   0.000      .201242    .5865558
     fdic_mp |   .2368222   .0761314     3.11   0.002     .0863687    .3872757
   unfp_usfp |   .3958337   .0742675     5.33   0.000     .2490639    .5426035

As one can see, the next elections tend to favour PJD (with an estimated 50.2% chance of getting a vote majority on all seats – quite different from getting a majority of seats) although there are a couple of contenders, and an even stiffer competition between say RNI vs USFP, RNI vs PI, and finally, USFP vs PI. As for PAM, my estimate is they are not likely to get anywhere close to a serious contender for governing party.

In essence, PJD’s electoral legacy would be that of ‘breaking the mould’ of opposition parties: strong enough to have a large caucus, but too weak to force censure motions, and definitely unable to form a government on their own right. It would be a breakthrough legacy if PJD could force through an electoral reform that seeks to improve the chances of a one-party government. True, this would mean PJD is most likely to stay in office for the next decade, but this is about representative democracy.

Data description: seats are allocated to each district per each electoral districting. All of the seats are allocated to the party with a plurality of votes. Parties are merged afterwards when applicable.


Predictions for the 2016 Elections, Part.1

The proportional vote ballot with a minimum threshold adopted in Morocco has proven to be of weakening effect to representative democracy. Sure, it has allowed more parties to get on the game, and even get a seat or two, but it has definitely weakened government party coalitions, as these grew larger, more heterogeneous and political weaker, beholden to the non-elected part of Moroccan government. Consider the last 2011 elections: PJD came first with 1.08 Million votes with Istiqlal following behind with little less than half the votes – in fact, PJD needed an additional 268,700 votes to get an absolute majority, a 7.33% nationwide swing.

Istiqlal, on the other hand, needs an 18.9% swing to overtake PJD. Where did that figure come from? The proportional ballot system allocates different levels of majorities to each district. In 2011 for instance, the corresponding majority votes would have been 1.35 Million votes, or 28% of the popular vote (I have posted on the reasons behind discrepancies between absolute majorities, plurality and parliamentary seats’ majorities)

The operating principle behind the politics of government coalition is simple enough: since no political party can form a government on their own, they need to build a coalition. In fact, it does not have to be the party with a plurality of votes, as long as the ‘majority swing‘ i.e. the percentage of popular votes needed to attain absolute majority, is significantly low. In 1997, the 40,000 votes difference between USFP and Istiqlal could have put either in charge of the Alternance government (Istiqlal leaders did protest as they felt they had a slight advantage in the popular vote) because these votes made up only .68% of the electoral turnout.

The same goes for 2002, while USFP was again ahead in the returns, the differences with the second ranking party – Istiqlal – were statistically insignificant (less than 2% of the votes) and there was good chance either M. Abderrahmane Youssoufi or M. Abbas El Fassi could have led the 2002 government. History of course shows it was otherwise, the internal squabbles in the Koutla prompted the King to dismiss both and instead appoint non-partisan M. Driss Jettou. In 2007, the re-match was between PJD and Istiqlal, with an even lower margin of .15%, so in truth, the 2007 Abbas El Fassi government could have been the Saad Ed-Dine Othamni government.

2011 shook-up the ambiant 1997 consensus because it was the first time since 1984 one party managed to carry more than one million vote (in 1993, USFP and Istqlal contested elections on joint lists, carrying 1.5 Million votes) and at the same time minimize the majority swing, from 15.72% in 1984 for Union Constitutionnelle, to 7.33% for PJD.

The table reads: “PAM can lose 5 seats to MP” and “MP loses no seat to MP”

This is precisely what is at stake: out of 305 seats on local ballot, 84 of these are marginals, i.e. due to the proportional ballot system, a member of parliament might lose his seat (yes, there is only 10.4% chance to get a female representative elected on local ballot) if only a couple of votes switch to the next party. Incidentally, the ‘real’ number of marginals should have been 92 (for 92 district) the last slot for each one being the ‘marginal’. This proves some parties (PJD, Istiqlal, PAM and RNI) tend to have strong constituencies, and that displacements are not as frequent as one might think they are. On the other hand, as shown on the table above, these displacements are not evenly spread – some marginals are more marginal than others, with various probabilities of vote swing.

The Electoral College in Morocco

Posted in Tiny bit of Politics by Zouhair ABH on November 3, 2012

Yet another piece of evidence the electoral process in Morocco has been wickedly turned around to smother democracy with artificial multi-party system. Indeed, a recurrent theme in Morocco’s official ‘selling points’ during the Cold War was its supposedly open, multi-party political system. It even boasted it had a pro-communist party openly contesting elections (and ultimately electing its leader, Ali Yata in 1977)

… Au total, si la légalité du statut du PPS paraît aujourd’hui un acquis, on peut se demander quelle latitude d’action lui est finalement permise par le Pouvoir. Tout se passe comme si l’on acceptait bien sa faculté contributive au système institutionnel…(La Grande Encyclopédie du Maroc, Vol. Institutions, p.105)

“Moroccan Democracy” culminated with 26 parties contesting the 2002 elections, yet it has resulted in the largest vote dispersion ever since general elections were called in 1963. Broadly speaking, I use the present regional map to sketch a ‘winner takes all’ US-style elections on the basis of each region’s electoral votes – and the results are quite simply extraordinary. In fact, it enunciates a simple rule our politicians should abide by: it is easier to have stronger government (and opposition) parties with larger constituencies, and the fewer competing political parties, the better. Quite so: even the historically largest minor party (PPS) did not manage to carry at least one region since 1977.

Legend for the Slideshow below

In fact, the national minor party with an Electoral Vote system is Mouvement Populaire; and there is the threshold: Istiqlal, RNI, PJD, MP and USFP. All five carried at least one region three times in 1963-2011. It is no surprise these parties account for 75% of all local ballot seats. These are the accrued results of ballot system and large constituencies: the electoral college system in the United States uses First Past the Post (save for Nebraska and Maine) with the party candidate with a plurality of votes ends up carrying the district/constituency. It shows Morocco does not have that many ‘national’ parties, and that smaller parties do not necessarily contribute to representative democracy, other than taking away votes from larger parties – splitting the vote as it were.

Consider the publicized 2002 -and to a less extent, 2007- elections: even with the First Past the Post system, smaller parties, because they have more or less reliable local and/or regional bases, can field enough votes to get all available seats for a particular district. Yet local base does not mean regional outreach. In fact, the vote dispersion harmed larger parties, denying them 59 seats, enough to provide large majorities for the national parties, hence allowing one party to form a government alone (in 2007, PJD or Istiqlal. In 2011, PJD)

parties with wider and stronger regional outreach tend to perform better in the Electoral Vote: in 2002 and 2007 Istiqlal did not have that many seats under the regular FPTP, yet because their vote is widespread across regions, and because the FPTP recipient is not always the same across districts – while Istiqlal ranks a close second- they get to benefit from large constituencies – in this case, regions. More to come.

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Lower The Age Vote to 16 – Why It Could Bolster Turnout over the Long Run

Posted in Intikhabates-Elections, Moroccan History & Sociology, Morocco, Read & Heard by Zouhair ABH on March 8, 2012

Vote at 16. Why not?

I guess the first counter-argument goes on how critical these new electors can be on the overall turnout. What if in spite of this new enfranchised population, turnout was still low? Well, we can always run the numbers and prove that an election does not need to carry more than 51% of total votes to be popular. I posted on it a couple of months ago, but we can go over it once more: the present system both restricts and allows for an absolute majority with fewer votes.

Computations assume full turnout, full registration of all Moroccan adults per HCP estimates.

The total number of adult Moroccans for 2012 is about 22 Million individuals;  assuming all of them are registered, it can be easily proved a political organization (a coalition or a single party) can carry 198 seats with less than 11 Million votes. Indeed, there are about 55,700 votes per seat, and 22.7% of these seats are just a projection of local ballots. But then again, one has to take into account the 6% threshold to qualify for a public refund; that leaves the total actual vote to 52,300:1. Furthermore, since 41% of slots opened on all 92 districts carry 3 seats, hence carrying an average 3.3 seats per district, the total number of seats actually needed to carry 2 seats out of 3 opened on 92 districts in absolute majority is 55%, with the final result of 28,700 votes, thus bring the theoretical number of votes required to carry an absolute majority to 4.4 Million votes. And that assumes a 100% turn-out and no rejected or blank ballots. In the final analysis, it doesn’t take 11 Million votes to get an absolute majority at the House of Representatives-and thus control parliament, not even half of it; overall, 20% of all Moroccan adults can do it, democratically and in spite of all the gerrymandering one might think of.The figure of course, decreases commensurately quicker as the turnout declines, since the actual electorate is computed on the basis of voter turnout, i.e. on an already smaller slate of decisive voters – it is worth pointing out that many adults cannot vote by law or by deprivation of right: military, auxiliary police force members, current and prison inmates and so on.

In fact, the computations hold even as the current district boundaries allow for significant discrepancies between allocated seats and its demographic size: Tan-Tan has a population of 70,000 including 40,000 adults and gets 2 seats. Mohammedia has 3 seats even though is has a population of 321,000 including 200,000 adults. Mohammedia has one additional seat even though its adult population is five time that of Tan-Tan. Obviously,  a candidate in the former needs only 18,000 votes to gain a slot, 37,000 to carry both. A Mohammedia candidate needs to carry 62,000 for one seat, and 188,000 for their ballot list to carry the whole district. Volatility around the nationwide 28,700 mean does not, however, preclude, at least on paper, the possibility of one party, or a smaller pre-electoral coalition, to carry an absolute majority at Parliament House.

If 20% of all Moroccan adults alone, under the assumption of full turnout, can provide enough votes for a strong majority, there is little to fear from expanding the size of this electorate. In fact, it brings 1.8 Million additional voters, and as it may please sceptics, their relative weight will tend to decrease, from 7.56% of the new total electorate in 2012, to 6.7% of the potential 2016 electorate, an annual average demographic decline of  0.9%. It is quite obvious that their immediate impact in terms of a first-time ‘protest vote’ is quite harmless, since their weight is dangerously close to the 6% threshold. Unless they can mobilize more enthusiastically and make up for a low turnout from other demographic populations. And the whole idea gambled upon is to boost turnout over the years young 16 years-old go to polling stations. Studies show the younger generation is keener to get involved in civic activities, and lower the mandatory age for voting rights can influence this civic enthusiasm to political activism.

Are political parties interested in disenfranchising electors? It seems not. As a matter of fact, they would fight it with all the energy their special interests can summon; most parties do not have active youth organizations, and those who do are often at loggerheads with youthful rivals to an otherwise political gerontocracy. Yet it would serve a lot the political mainstream to mobilize young people very early on; they can build on some strong support that can carry them across elections, a readily available stock of grass-roots activists, and perhaps more ambitiously, to hand-pick early on potential leaders – that is when our political leaders finally come to the conclusion they are not immortals, and their heirs need not be systematically with biological ties.

While 16 years-old can be allowed to vote, can they also stand as candidates? Well, if the case for the voting right gets its point across to the public opinion, I suppose there is little to prevent it as well. After all, the books of law do not explain why the age of 18 was arbitrarily selected, do they?