The Moorish Wanderer

Across Partisan Lines: Redistricting in Morocco

I apologise in advance to the excessive level of abstract models used in this post, but there is only so much I can take in the current, mainstream political science discourse in Morocco. I mean, I am a great fan of Wijhat Nadar (the review) and writings of heavyweights like Abdellah Laroui, but it would be fun to explore other alternatives, possibly using teachings from game theory. Plus this is High School-level math, so no harm done.

A quick look at a relatively unearthed matter in Moroccan politics can always tell when a consensus crosses party lines, and in this case, it is about the number of seats allocated to each district. Traditionally each and every party vent their respective grievances as to the incumbent districting: smaller parties vehemently oppose high thresholds (PSU found an eloquent advocate against it back in 2007 in one of its prominent leaders, Mohamed Sassi) and larger parties tend to believe their strongholds are undervalued: back then it was USFP in Rabat or Casablanca, nowadays it is PJD in Tangier, Casablanca or Salé. Every election is the same, parties complain to the media, but cannot agree on anything.

In fairness, districting is always a zero-sum game, even if the number of seats in parliament is expanded: a large district benefits some type of parties, and harms others. Better still, some parties have contradicting interests on similar constituencies; for instance, the 2011 general elections pitted Istiqlal and USFP (in Fez), PJD and UC (Marrakesh) RNI and Istiqlal (Southern seats) among others. A slight change in the number of seats, or inter-province districting can tip the balance one way or the other. Political parties in Morocco do look (and act) disorganised and utterly incompetent, but this belies their inner rationality as to their political survival.

Consider a simple model to capture the perverse effect that compels political parties to defer to a benevolent actor e.g. the Interior Ministry. It is the rational course of action for every political party in Morocco: abdicate the possibility of a contentious (but ultimately more democratic) battle over the optimal number of allocated seats per district, for a more peaceful, consensual redistricting under the auspices of a mechanism-designer with endogenous preferences, ultimately the perpetual weakening of that very same political spectrum.

Consider a number of n political parties competing for a fixed (but undefined) number of seats. Each party i derives some utility from contesting elections and having members of parliament elected; three layers of benefits can be listed: first, merely electing a member of parliament, second, electing a caucus with at least 6% of nationwide popular votes, and finally, a benefit from coming on top, or very close. The utility function is thus:

U(h_i) = \mathbf{1}_{v(h_{i,6})}\{\pi(h_i)+\phi h_i - \max\{h_{-i}\}\}+\frac{v(h_i)}{v(n)} -c_0

As each party prepares to contest elections, they face a certain fixed cost (typically the deposit required from each and every party candidate/list) but on the other hand, there are benefits attached to large caucuses, either in form of increased monetary compensation, or some utility derived from participating in a government. A simple differentiation pinpoints exactly the conflict of interest:

\dfrac{\partial U(h_i)}{\partial h_i}=\pi'(h_i)+\phi-\max{h_i}=0

that is:


As one can see, the benefit from one additional seat for a particular party stems from the performance of other parties (a primary evidence of the zero-sum aspect of game elections) and most importantly, is negatively linked to this term \phi. In this particular setting, it refers to a ‘premium’ put on the seat(s) won by that particular party. As it shall be proven later, each and every party has a particular incentive at keeping that parameter exogenous – in this case, defer to a higher authority.

Suppose the premium is set by the final outcome, i.e. suppose the present electoral result decides the next performance and the size of the district. This means:



\pi'(h_i)=\max{h_i}-[\phi'(h_i) + \phi(i)]

Now, there are a couple of cases where the last term might differ from the first case to the second. And there comes the Interior Ministry (the shiny knight cloaked in white, one might say) in providing an arbitrage that benefits individual parties, but ultimately harm their collective chances in getting large, stable government coalitions. In this setting, individual parties are better off when the premium is low, in fact when it is lower than the fixed, exogenous term \phi, that is:


Because of the higher competition (captured by a competitive districting) between parties mean the overall benefit from seats won by a particular party is diminished, and coming on top is not worth much.

As the same reasoning is applied to the entire caucus carried by party i, we get:

\int \phi'(h_i)+\phi(h_i)d h_i \geq \phi \int h_i d h_i

and there is your proof: on average, a caucus is better off when the districting is exogenous: \mathbb{E}(\phi(h_i))\geq\phi\mathbb{E}(h_i) this is possible because each district is treated the same; the intuition behind it is, preferential treatment for one district cannot be achieved because every other district will have to be treated similarly, and that takes us back to square one. The best response for each political party is thus to support uniform treatment, and as a result their respective caucuses are weakly better of with an exogenous districting.

Suppose we also look at the dispersion of caucuses as well: a larger expectation in caucus size does not mean both cases exhibit equal dispersion around it; in fact, since h_i denotes dispersion around the mean, and since: 2 h_i \phi'(h_i)+ h_i^2\phi(h_i)\geq \phi'(h_i)+\phi(h_i) then \mathbb{V}[\phi(h_i)]\geq\phi^2 \mathbb{V}(h_i)

This is an important result, because individual party interest trumps the collective likelihood of having a strong parliamentary majority (due to competitive districting) and the benevolent designer can only minimise the volatility – if it is indeed in their interest.

A candid observer cannot but wonder how Makhzen and Nihilist parties seem to agree on  a status-quo that harms representative democracy: true, smaller parties (including PSU) are most likely to be wiped out of the political map if they do not merge or join larger parties, but on the other hand, larger parties also seem to know they are next in line, because the bulk of their seats can be lost if a competitive system were to be introduced, be it an alternative ballot system, or an unfavourable (but impartial) districting.

Authorities on the other hand seem to have some incentive in keeping volatility high enough, so as to deny any potentially rebellious party the possibility of commanding an absolute majority, and hence forming an independent-minded government. It seems political rationality in this setting trumps every possible narrative about ideology, or political history.

Who’s Who in The Dark Blue Suit: Winners and Losers

Posted in Morocco by Zouhair ABH on January 8, 2012

[There’s a heated debate going on about women representativeness in the new government. Tough call: I wonder if feminism in Morocco translated into some concrete policies to improve gender equality, ever. Some gender equality-oriented legislation perhaps? I doesn’t matter how many female ministers are up there; what matters is how influential women of power can be to further the cause of gender equality.]

Morocco’s brand new 27th government is finally out, although Mr Benkirane looked like he was wrestling with security before the line-up for the picture. Some smiling faces, some grinning through: That picture is heavy with symbolism, with unexpected winners, unlikely losers and some that should -in account of their service to political life- be associated to the business of running government.

‘Upwards & Onwards’:

Ramid, Pyrrhus? (MAP)

Mustapha Ramid: the maverick attorney is finally in place as the country’s (second) most important lawmaker (and enforcement) official. His appointment wasn’t a walk in the park, according to Abdellah Baha, Benkirane’s right-hand man; in fact, his appointment might be a pyrrhic victory, carried at the expense of other prominent PJD members. Still and all, Mr Ramid can boast to manage a large department, even more so because of PJD’s credo in fighting corruption and injustice.

Reform of justice is a crucial, if not vital bet to PJD’s chances of re-election in 2016. This is particularly true for Mr Ramid, given his credentials as a ‘troublemaker’ both within and outside parliament. If he does manage to pull this one off, his leadership claim could grow stronger, especially if other departments, or even the Head Of Government, do not deliver.

Saad-Edine Othmani: the mild-mannered, soft-talking former PJD Premier was allocated a tailor-fit department -though burdened perhaps with a minder like many other political ministers- he could have made a very good Head Of Government – one with a much more moderate discourse for the same actions.

The trouble with Mr Othmani is his lack of experience with foreign policy: parliament in Morocco isn’t usually at the vanguard of diplomatic talks, and elected officials usually deferred to the Palace in such matters. Same story goes for him: if he manages to produce a good record when other PJD ministers failed, he can challenge incumbent PJD leader as well -though his record might not be as appealing as Mr Ramid’s-

Mohand Laenser: for someone who has made their entire career as a public administrator, and even with former Police chief Charki Draiss as a minder at his side to make sure the right decision is always made, this is the ultimate achievement – quite a story indeed, given his status as a former protégé of Driss Basri. Not since the 1970s has a partisan official been appointed to the position of “Premier Flic” as G. Clémenceau once referred to the office of Interior minister.

In a sense, Mr Laenser confirms his leadership as Mouvement Populaire Premier: the switch from the defunct A8 alliance could have cost him a lot; now that he and some of his allies have been given relatively important portfolios (Interior, Youth & Sports, Tourism and a liaison office to HoG for public sector reforms) he can therefore provide other lucrative postings to supporters and dissenters as well. Trouble is, can he provide the Interior Ministry with new and fresh ideas? I would suggest that given his curriculum at the French Ecole Nationale d’Administration, where innovation is hardly a tactic to win favour with one’s superiors, this is very unlikely to ever happen.

Lahcen Daoudi: The third man from the PJD troïka (Othmani & Ramid) has a near-mission impossible task to reform the Higher Education in Morocco. Contrary to diplomacy or justice, the metrics to evaluate a minister’s job with education are difficult to grasp, and policy effects tend to take years to show up.

Abdellah Baha: though in his case it is a bit of a mixed bag; rumour has it Benkirane wanted originally to create him Vice-Head Of Government, a formal n°2 to his side, but the Palace is said to have objected for. Still, he retains a senior position that could enable him to influence other ministers, as a spokesman for Benkirane.

Nabil Benabdellah: his last term of office as Communications and Government spokesman ranks definitely lower than his new job at Urban development. The other portfolios allocated to PPS also maintain his leadership with the party, and I foresee very little dissent because he is now able to distribute favours and perks to allies and dissenters alike.

Nizar Baraka: his promotion from the junior position of liaison minister (to the Prime Minister -his Father-in-Law– with the outgoing government) to the second most powerful ministry -second only to the Interior Ministry- is a wonderful gift to his Istiqlal party and a sad omen for the much-needed reforms in fiscal policy and public finances.

Though Mr Baraka is a former high official with the said ministry, his failure to reform the compensation fund -fund allocation swelled from a MAD 30Bn-odd budget to 48Bn- sheds a great deal of doubts over his capabilities on taking on fiscal niches and privileges that bloat public finances. The only hope to hang on to is to expect RNI/PAM-led opposition to make as much trouble as possible every time the budget bill is due for a vote in Parliament House.

‘Downwards & Outwards’:

He is not happy - and for good reason.

Mohamed Najib Boulif: Sad news for the PJD-led government, great news for the opposition, and bad news for me; his outstanding record as a returning representative for Tangiers with the Finances committee. I was already picturing him at the Finances Ministry, working his way up with the directors, confronting the lobbyists to make sure public finances and the treasury are well provided for. Not that I hang all my hopes on a Boulif tenure at the treasury, but he at least has the political skiils to deal with the opposition in residence; Mr Nizar Baraka, on the other hand, for all the technical skills he can bring to this job, is no political match to a machine he knows only too well.

He ended up instead with a relatively junior position, as a liaison minister to the Head Of Government to general affairs and governance. That’s a bit demeaning to a senior member of the PJD caucus. in regular democracies, prominent members of a parliamentary caucus usually get upgraded to significant portfolio once voted into office. I don’t know much about the backdrops of Boulif’s demotion – he struck me as a bland technocrat with no particular ideological stances on the economy or public policies- but it surely has something to do with the fuss the press made about a possible rejection of Mustapha Ramid as Justice minister. I am, quite simply, saddened our Barbarossa did not get the job.

If indeed that was to be true, I guess designate Head Of Government Benkirane might have had to sacrifice a few of his allies and friends to retain what could turn out to be the ticket for re-election in 2016: the reform of justice as a radical policy to weed out structural corruption.

Bassima Hakaoui: strangely enough, I would consider her appointment to the Families and Social Affairs department to be a demotion of sorts. After all, that department has been always staffed with a female politician ever since its creation in 1998- posting the only woman in this government to such a junior department -missions and budget alike- is not only a stagnation in women’s representativeness in government bodies, but it also confirms what politicians from all political persuasion think of what fits a female politician: social and gender issues, nothing of hard substance politics, at interior or even finances, for instance.

The Stalwarts:

Abdellatif Loudiyi: the one department that remains firmly secretive and non-partisan did not upgrade itself to a full portfolio; the incumbent, A. Loudiyi was maintained in office, and whether it should be a tale-telling sign of the sensitiveness of his department, the official news agency MAP did not put online his biography.A. Loudiyi was Secretary to the Finance Minister, and is credited with the good management of the public debt -up to 2009 anyway- following his predecessor’s death, Abderahmane Sbai, he was appointed to serve as what might be the nearest thing to a Defence minister. Defence is usually a mined territory, and politicians from all parties are only too happy not to risk one of theirs to gain it back. The administration of defence -let alone the actual policy of defence- remain squarely within the Royal purview.

Ahmed Taoufik: still out there. The Habous and Islamic Affairs department was not in PJD’s sights, let alone any of the governmental coalition members. The department is the King’s alone, just like Defence.

Aziz Akhzennouch: what a turnout! the RNI representative for Tiznit needs to resign his seat (Article 61 of the 2011 Constitution says so) because he has switched, or rather left his surrogate party RNI to keep his job as Agriculture Minister. I guess Plan Maroc Vert will be carried out after all. I can foresee very little changes in the much-needed agrarian reform, or even worse, no change at all in the quasi-permanent moratorium on the Agri-Tax.

What to make out of this government?

Dull men (and a dull Woman, too) in dark suits with very mainstream curricula are very unlikely to shake-up government policy: of all 31 ministers and junior ministers, nearly all of them hold a postgraduate degree, and many of them are public service insiders. I don’t expect earth-shattering fiscal reforms, either, including an end to the unjust fiscal moratorium or a radical plan to deal with the mounting public debt. On education and health, the incumbents are members of parties associated with government work for at least 14 years.

A dull government indeed.

Moroccan Elections for the Clueless Vol.18

Posted in Intikhabates-Elections, Moroccan Politics & Economics, Moroccanology, Morocco, Read & Heard by Zouhair ABH on November 18, 2011

And the Campaign is off! Candidates are competing, parties are trying to lure the voters with not so much clever videos; but nonetheless the campaign has started cahin-caha.

Brought to You by the Interior Ministry

The Interior Ministry released figures on competing parties and their candidates; it is quite astonishing to discover that among those 7102 candidates seeking public office, some odd political parties joining in – CNI (with 300 candidates) a fellow Left Alliance member with PSU and PADS- and smaller, more obscure organizations (among others, Choura & Istiqlal party are endorsing 58 candidates) trying to make their way through a highly competitive, time and resources-consuming campaign.

The good news is, we shall have at least 80% of the next batch of Representatives (on local ballot) with a decent education degree: only 200 of these have no education, and realistically, only 23 to 50 can get into parliament. So on education requirement, the next parliament might well be more prepared to deal with the difficult task of representing the public. 90% of head ballot candidates have at least a High School degree – all 1,422 of them.

Though there is a national ballot list, women are campaigning for local ballots as well, though it is worth pointing out only 5% of those are Women-led. Diversity with ‘young’ candidates (it is a bit of stretch to consider all those 35-yo when the median age among adult population is closer to 30, and overall median age is 20-24) and Women -who are way under-represented with respect to their relative share in total population, i.e. 50.8% of total population, 48.7% of adult population. Perhaps local lists are diverse enough to try to attract gender and demographic votes, but the ballot system is such only n°1 and n°2 are guaranteed a seat if their win is large enough, the others have a much lower chance to make it to Parliament house.

7102 candidates - 395 seats. And the crowd goes wild - if only.

How many of these will manage to get a seat? Well, it depends on only too many things. in any case, there still is a definite strong emphasis on rural constituencies to the expenses of urban districts: following HCP figures, there should be 13Mln Urban adult eligible voters vs 8.5Mln rural potential voters.

Now we don’t have much information about the break-down per registered voters, but all indicators seem to point out that rural constituencies are allocated a lot more seats, in terms of total and adult population that is. Aousserd (pop. 73,000)  retains two seats, while My Rachid district (pop. 207,000) retains 3 seats even though total population is 3 times higher. There are indeed some regional balances to be insured, but the fact of the matter is, even with the modest increases of seats in the Casablanca metropolitan area and in other cities (Tangiers and Temara-Skhirat for instance) there still is a sizeable advantage to rural seats, and some parties (PJD) may not, after all, benefit from the changes amid the increase of number of seats from 325 to 395.

The figures are out there, selected candidates denote of some effort put in presentational details, and the public shall see for themselves who is fit for office.

Moroccan Elections for the Clueless Vol.14

Posted in Flash News, Intikhabates-Elections, Moroccanology, Morocco, Read & Heard by Zouhair ABH on November 6, 2011

There are going to be 13,626,357 registered voters going (or not) to the polls; since the last parliamentary 2007 elections, some 1,836,005 voters have vanished away from the then 15,462,362 registered voters. This post will try to find out what happened.

How can a Moroccan citizen lose the right to vote? Short of dying or serving a prison sentence, there are very few ways a Moroccan citizen would be denied registration. In fact, those cases where registered voters have to undergo some administrative changes have been listed in a communiqué from the Interior Ministry:

أما بخصوص التشطيبات التي باشرتها اللجان المذكورة، تنفيذا لأحكام القانون المنظم لعملية تجديد اللوائح الانتخابية العامة، فقد بلغت في المجموع 694.594 شطبا، منها 284.360 تهم حالات نقل التسجيل، و136.718 تهم الأشخاص الذين تأكد للجنة المختصة أنهم لا يستوفون شرط الإقامة الفعلية بتراب الجماعة أو المقاطعة، و95.704 تتعلق بعدم إثبات الأشخاص المعنيين بالأمر لهويتهم استنادا إلى بطائقهم الوطنية للتعريف، و63.740 تهم حالات الوفيات، و60.578 تتعلق بحالات فقدان الأهلية الانتخابية، و53.374 تتعلق بالتسجيلات المتكررة، إضافة إلى 120 حالة شطب استنادا إلى أحكام قضائية.

Those changes that actually reduce the number of registered voters are those unable to produce compelling ID documents (95,000) those who passed away (63,000) and those ex-voters who lost the right to vote (60,000). The other cases only re-arrange the total electoral corps. These changes, incidentally, are relative to the last time Electoral lists have been updated, and that was on May and June 2011, prior to the July Constitutional Referendum.

18-35 make up the bulk of total voters. But where are the first-time voters?

The communiqué boasts an additional 1,214,003 new registered voters, but one needs to take into account those crossed off the electoral list, which means that the actual new batch of fresh registered voters is only 519,409 and the sad news is, that’s roughly the number of voters PJD candidates got in 2007. More saddening is the fact that out of 21,586,000 adults (according to HCP computations) only 13 Million will be allowed to vote: more than a third of eligible Moroccans will not vote, and that alone says it all: our fellow citizens are not interested in national politics. While it might be true that 56% of those voters are less than 35years-old, it does not provide enough insight of how many of those first-time voters (specifically the 18-25 bandwidth) make up; more specifically, how many of the 4,453,000 young, first-time voters Moroccans are registered in these 7Mln?

With these figures at hand, I have to admit all those computations and speculations about the Youth vote, the Turnout and related indicators have been built out of thin air, and therefore lose all meaningful purpose, just like the next elections; this is the defeat of political activism on behalf of all political blocs before political apathy: Feb20 activists failed to enlist Moroccans in their struggle for democracy and their challenge to the regime; Officials failed to convince Moroccans to register en masse and thus buttress the claim these elections will have granite-solid legitimacy, and finally, political parties who did not seem interested in widening their popular base, and instead went for knifing each others – like in this unfortunate video where a petulant Benkirane blows off unnecessarily:

(video circulated by RNI-ADI activists)

This still does not explain how 1.8Mln voters vanished away from the registrars’ books, but it rather points out the way to explain it: fewer young voters are making up for the elderly -necessarily registered- who pass away. It is a known fact older people have higher registration rates; as reported by the RDH50 Report. While this does not show political apathy per se, it does however stress the lack of confidence partisan politicians enjoy among that population, one that makes up for 1/3 of total population.

The same HCP projections show that adult population aged less than 60 increased 1.4Mln between 2007 and 2011. The elderly population (60 and above) on the other hand, increases some 282,000, and among those aged 65 and above only 100,000. In other terms, the population that expericenced high levels of registration (a 60years-old Moroccan would have been a registered voter in 1972 with a much higher proportion back then) is giving way to one wtih much lower registration rates; indeed, while the elderly scored a 11% increase, the number of first-time voters (the 18-25 interval) managed only a third of this growth rate; so the replacement ratio, so to speak, does not apply; even under the most optimistic projections, only one out of three old voters is replaced at the other end of the age spectrum; When the mortality rate (around 120 per 1,000 adult) is computed on the elderly population (around 300,000) we can account for 1.2Mln out of the missing 1.8Mln. The rest being mainly split across population deprived from civil rights (with a prison population standing around 63,000 according to reports) and the migration effects.

But one can be sure of it: the decline in the electoral corps is due to the non-replacement of old voters by the new generation; While it is true those born after 1975 make up half of total voters, those born in the 1980-1990s did not register in commensurate proportions to make up for demographic decline, and they certainly did not register in large numbers enough to match the adult population.

Moroccan Elections for the Clueless Vol.3

The Boycott Option:

A clueless strategy since 1962

Has the boycott been of some significant over general elections since 1963? Beforehand, I have been admonished for my use of official data on the last 50 years or so. And I agree: half a century of ballot-stuffing, gerrymandering, administrative parties mushrooming whose sole aim is to prevent opposition from reaching power through regular electoral processes. Driss Basri, Interior Minister since 1983 (and Secretary of State since 1993) has performed wonders in shaping majorities, weakening parties, elevating others, and systematically delivering high turnout and Soviet-style results in constitutional referendums. And so, why study past results, since all figures have been twisted? Indirectly, this has been -and still is, to this day- one of the main pro-boycott set of arguments: if authorities can temper with supposedly free and fair elections, why bother to vote? (incidentally, this is also a good argument for not caring about past elections…)

The Boycott Party has had a rather strong showing since 1963: of 4.7 Million registered voters, 1.2Million cast blank or invalidated votes, and some 1.3 Million did not bother to turnout to vote at all. The “Boycott Party” (if indeed it was a boycott) had carried a similar number of votes to that of pro-regime FDIC. When non-cast ballots are accrued, it turns out only one elector out of two bothered to express an interest in UNFP, or Istiqlal or FDIC candidates.

If non-voting electors represented a sizeable population, that was taken care of with the next 1977 elections, where turnout climbed as high as 82.36%, which means some 1.1 Million voters did not go to polling stations, and 541,000 others had their votes annulled. 1977 elections observed high turnouts in, say Casablanca (88.75%) and Rabat (83.46%) but equally, their annulled ballots percentage was higher than nationwide mean, respectively 16.93% and 9.49%. An explanation one might venture would be that since ballots in urban areas are easier to check and staff -from opposition parties’ point of view- any perceived risk of ballot-stuffing or tampering with election results in these boroughs is significantly reduced, and even when the mistake is in good faith, chances are it will not be registered properly.

Then again, urban areas have had historically high boycott and blank ballot rates throughout: the 1977 and 1963 elections have been retained as specific examples to prove the existence of a strong sense of civics, albeit a particularly deviant one. The talks of referendum or elections these last couple of months are not particularly new: there has always been a significant population that does not trust ballot results, either because it does not trust the political field, or the process itself, or has great doubts over the actual impact on their everyday lives.

In any case, this population, theoretically a large one ever since 2007 (by some 9.7 Million disaffected voters, in addition to 1 Million blank votes) is indeed our very own “Silent Majority“, albeit a heterogeneous one: it gathers the academic sick and tired of partisan politics and more concerned with their standards of living, the high-school or college graduate youth with no clue about the whole she bang, but also the human rights and charity activist disappointed by the political process and convinced other means are more effective into bettering Morocco;

This silent majority of about half of the potential electorate embodies a blatant reproach to the failure of political parties to take charge of their constitutional duty. Not that they did not always want to, but because they have failed, up to date, in their large majority, to devise strategies to circumvent the ordinary obstacles to reach out for these voters. Taking to the street might be one, but the risk is to alienate many of those in the process…

The “Silent Majority” concept was coined by Richard M. Nixon as a generic word to designate voters fed up with and confused by the deep changes the United States were undergoing at the time (Vietnam War, civil rights, city riots, Hippies, students’ protests…) and adjunct to the sense that somehow, the society was falling apart.