The Moorish Wanderer

Is anyone thinking about 2016?

Posted in Moroccan Politics & Economics, Morocco, Read & Heard, The Wanderer by Zouhair ABH on March 5, 2012

It seems not. A year seems to be a long time in Moroccan politics, and all across the political spectrum, politicians and activists do not seem to take a step back an look at the big picture, even the most experienced and respected of those.

Winners and Losers, but ultimately losers for failing to provide Moroccans with a vision.

Fouad Abdelmoumni, a respected Human Rights activists and a father-figure (of sorts) with the Feb20 movement, expressed short-sightedness in his analysis regarding the future of this government. He claims:

Enfin, les prochaines semaines nous montreront si ce gouvernement est conscient qu’il joue sa survie, celle d’un parti majeur et celle du pays. La crise va bientôt peser de tout son poids, et le Maroc n’a que le choix d’en sortir par le haut, à travers la démocratie, l’effort et les solutions courageuses, sous peine de sombrer à plus ou moins brève échéance dans les frustrations et la confrontation. Il convient surtout de ne pas oublier que les anciens expédients par lesquels le Maroc a pu tenir (répression, corruption, division des opposants, monopole de l’information…) sont révolus, et que la rue ne manquera pas de demander des comptes dès la fin de la “période de grâce” du gouvernement.

And I suspect many activists are thinking the same thing: that PJD-led government coalition, just like the Constitutional Referendum and Parliamentary Elections are a patch to contain the growing social resentment against repression, nepotism and the like. That may be true, but still, it does not absolve the movement -and the Moroccan left- from building a truly comprehensive pro-democracy platform, or at least to provide clear-cut, unambiguous set of principles to which a majority of Moroccans can relate to.

The mainstream political spectrum also seems to be lacking their own political Weltanschauung: can anyone state precisely how USFP, or PAM, or UC stand on specific issues as well as broad principles? In fact, screw broad principles, as they bear little meaning in Moroccan politics: PAM defines itself as a left-leaning party with a former CDG Sovereign fund CEO and technocrat Mustapha Bakkouri, and USFP, a member of the Socialist Internationale, has been a lifelong partner of conservative and crypto-islamist Istiqlal within the Historic Koutla, now a junior partner with the PJD-led government. As for the government, the mere fact a coalition is in cahoots until 2016 makes it sure no viable strategy is devised anywhere near 2016; in fact, it is very likely to be “2016 and bust”.

Since principles bear little significance to party politics in Morocco, only precise, comprehensive sets of policy agenda can be useful in defining the dividing lines of Moroccan politics. As for how parties view themselves in the next couple of years, mum’s the word; and I suspect this is due to their refusal to commit to a long-term vision. And there are basically two ways to go to explain it: lack of vision or excessive caution. Either way, it does not serve the public well.

What’s a vision for 2016? And Isn’t the date itself an example of political short-sightedness? Indeed. But the centrepiece of representative democracy is the rough-and-tumble of political campaigning induced by elections. And these usually trigger timely commitments from representatives and political leaders – perhaps we should consider elections every two years: 4 years of a full parliament intertwined with 4 years of local/regional elections.

Until they can come up with a comprehensive -and I insist on that term COMPREHENSIVE- agenda in all areas of pubic policy, they will have to focus on specific issues, preferably away from identity and culture stuff, like… the veil for instance; I’d rather prefer the public discourse go: “They will tax you back to the stone ages” vs “Tax breaks for the rich, additional burden for the middle classes”


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 Core Progressive coalition: Unions, Radicals, former Resistants and new Socialists

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.

82 seats - for old times' sake.

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.

What’s Left in Morocco? The Case For Progressive, Ambitious and Assertive Economic Policies

Posted in Dismal Economics, Moroccan Politics & Economics, Read & Heard, The Wanderer by Zouhair ABH on December 31, 2011

Call me pretentious, effete intellectual, but I deplore the absence of a comparable figure with a narrative close to that of Ed Ball‘s in the Moroccan political discourse: the bare-knuckled, assertive, even aggressive economic message pounded away at the media, the established government and those who tend to disparage the left-wingers as either bleeding-heart liberal unable to go beyond the nice but vague rethoric and principles, or corrupt career politicians driven with an insatiable hunger for power and wealth.

A New Hope For Progressive Economics

The late 1950s were about gaining economic independence: big government was needed to monitor and smooth the transition from a French-controlled economy to a more ‘national’, domestic economy. Abderrahim Bouabid, during his tenure as Finances Minister and then Vice-Head of Cabinet (with Premiers M’barek Bekkaï, Ahmed Balafrej and Abdellah Ibrahim) produced what could well be the most prolific executive legislation, ranging from creation of Dirham Currency to that of the future Bank Al Maghrib Central Bank, and various institutions, among others the modern Office des Changes to monitor flows of foreign capital, and make sure the financial instruments needed to carry out monetary policy are mastered and under domestic control. That gilded age of the Left of sorts needs to be restored, not with the same means, but with the same spirit, in resolution and assertiveness.

Big government, strangely enough, is favoured both by the Left (extending as far as Annahj far-left) and Makhzen traditionalists: a strong centre is needed to insure one or the other’s political and economic agenda is well executed. The core difference in their economics matters very little at the end: whether concentrated with a small nucleus of wealthy individuals (the Right and the ongoing pursued policy higher up are keen on supply-side economics) or a core of activists-bureaucrats (The left) there is very little difference but in the quality of the oligarchy.

Half a century of centralized decision-making and, even worse, centralized way of thinking has made public services in Morocco accountable to no one, with ordinary, median/average citizens at the receiving end of both administrative carelessness and more concentrated income distribution (in 1985, Gini Income Index was 0.36; in 2010, it was 0.46) So the justification by the Left of big government and burdensome regulations is void: it did not prevent private monopolies and special interests from taking a slice of the national cake, an increasing slice on top of it, guaranteed and protected by regulations and legislation.

Perhaps the Moroccan Left and Liberals need to accommodate burdensome and embarrassing allies: the corrupt and shady Unions, the powerful corporatist interests they support and count on (Lawyers, for one) and finally the once-loyal support of lower echelon in the Civil Service. The problem with such coalition is that it lacks the actual strength -never mind the consistency- to impose its supposedly progressive agenda; Regarding unions, their massive and disruptive potential has waned and they can no longer muster enough resources to stage demonstrations, let alone force deals for everyone to benefit from. The same goes for the special interest groups, strong enough to block attempts to force the status-quo, but too weak and divided to formulate and impose clear a coherent set of policies.

A coalition needs to be built around the ideals of progress, economic advancement and social justice – in that order. I cannot claim to produce reliable surveys on that topic, but it seems to me that fellow Moroccans I happen to engage with in discussions still view Socialism (that word really has gone out of fashion, hasn’t it?) and its economic policies as mainly Social, i.e. subsidizing the poor and soothing social resentment from inequalities; In other words, my non-representative sample does not believe Socialism can deliver on the economy: high growth, good jobs and high standards of living. I argue it can, but with unorthodox means. That coalition – Unions, Corporatist Interests and the weakened Middle Classes– is the key to the new progressive economic policies.

Food And Balance Of Trade: Imports of Wheat in Morocco amounted in 2010 to MAD 11.85Bn i.e. about 7.5% of Trade Balance deficit. The value per Imported Tone for Wheat is MAD 2.15 per Kg. More importantly, it has also imported MAD 93.6 Mln in various types of flour, We do import some fish flour; around 3 Tons – For all Morocco. And we export 4kgs (filed under FARINE,POUDRE EN PELLETS DE POISSON PR ALIMENTATION HUMAINE). That’s both laughable and symptomatic of a misguided choice of resources allocations.

As per FAO documents, Fish Flour provides superior nutrition value, because it can, if efficiently implemented, make up for a chronically low meat/protein consumption among Moroccan households, thus providing a cheaper and more popular alternative to traditional sources of meat consumption:

Why is FPC a good protein source?

First, of course, because it is concentrated; untreated and unprocessed foods do not generally contain more than about 20 percent protein, whereas FPC contains about 80 per cent. Secondly, the quality of the protein is high; by this is meant that the amino acids which make up the protein are present in just the right balance for human nutrition. Other foods such as cereals may contain useful amounts of protein but are frequently deficient in one or more of the amino acids that are essential for growth.

And there goes a policy that can win favour with a lot of people: all consumers will welcome a new class of flour that would enhance their consumption and increase their standard of living, producers and fisheries would expand their business to meet the demand, and prices of poultry, beef and lamb would decrease too. The one question remains: does Morocco have enough resources to meet the demand of 32 Mln hungry Moroccans?

According to the Russian Soy-Bean Company “Russoya” , The ratio for production is around 1/6, meaning there is a need for 6 Tons of raw fish to produce 1 Ton of pure fish flour. Morocco exports 222,000 Tons of Fishery at a unitary price value of MAD 29 per exported kilogram. If it switches to integral fish flour, it can produce 37,000 Tons at a unitary price of MAD 75 per exported kilogram, or even match up to 126 kg per imported kilogram. This is a win-win policy: in trade, Morocco saves up on differential traded value (on terms of trade) in domestic consumption, it increases protein consumption to higher levels, and in business, it allows for thriving companies to fish, condition and sell the product.

The 2001 HCP survey on household consumption points out that flour makes up for 55% of all wheat household consumption – and that percentage goes higher with the lower-income deciles: the poorer a household, the higher its consumption of flour – 70% for the bottom 20%. By the same findings, poorer households have a lower meat/protein consumption: there is a 1:64 ratio between the bottom and top 20% in terms of protein consumption. Perhaps the wisest and most straightforward policy to increase protein consumption across the board is simply to stop subsidizing wheat flour, and instead improve storage and distribution facilities for Fish flour. The trade-off is such that any anticipated costs for increasing production capacities -for domestic resources- would still be outweighed by the compensation fund allocation to wheat flour -an international commodity with volatile prices.

The rest is history: improving nutrition improves workforce, productivity, growth and leads to an increase in standards of living.

Small Business vs Big Business: I tried in a post earlier this year to explain that smaller businesses tend to do better in valuation and results. We need to do away with the myth of “National Champions” because they only contribute to accumulate wealth with little or no real investment in the economy. Smaller businesses on the other hand, take risks and try to make something real with positive impact on communities and individuals.

Small Cap Index beats MASI Big Business by comfortable margin during 2011

The admission that capitalism is good does not preclude the reservation on the current economic structure of Moroccan business, which is neither capitalism nor beneficial to the many – only to the very few. MASI index -dominated by juggernauts- systematically did worse when compared to smaller cap-based indexes this year.

Still and all, access to liquidity is heavily skewed towards large businesses; credit rationing, with its adverse effects, turns out to harm smaller and riskier businesses, not because of their inherent risk,  but because all liquidity has been captured by failing, larger companies. Regulations as well as dangerous acquaintances between businesses and banks makes access to liquidity discriminatory.

Parallel to an overhaul in credit allocation, there is a need to take on private monopolies and oligopolies: these harm collective welfare and destroy utility in the process: in Telecommunications, Edible food and other sectors, consumers pay more than they should in a more competitive market. Taking on business special interests means breaking up monopolies and concentrated holdings: SNI (formerly ONA-SNI), for instance goes too far in extending its hold on various business, ranging from Air Travel, Milk and Derivatives, Edible Oils, to the Banking industry. It is only populist in naming and shaming particular businesses, but the positive effects of a less concentrated and more competitive market setting will undoubtedly benefit everyone, from unions to end-users.

Agriculture, Taxation with Representation: tax exemption on agricultural products denotes of an obsolete, neoclassical mind-setting, if not outright narrow political calculations to keep off some lucrative rents going on. Taxation, contrary to a belief only too often held by many Moroccans, is not the modern equivalent of a punitive Harka expedition, a fiscal exaction of sorts; it is a policy instrument, that intervenes either to redistribute social surplus or to provide resources to public authorities so as to help what it perceives to be a potential new frontier. Both elements are designed within a political agenda, whose chief executive implements because they have a popular mandate for it.

Agricultural taxation will help overcome its biggest problem: estate domains; because Agrarian Reform still has not gone out of style, the progressive policy seeks to clarify, to introduce transparency on who owns what, on how collective ownership is defined. Because as long as no proper and serious tax proposal is introduced, as long as the tax moratorium is decreed -until 2013, that is- only big, urban-dwellers, export-oriented wealthy farmers will benefit from the opaque estate regulations. The point made earlier on breaking up monopolies fully applies to Agriculture as well.

Breaking the ceiling of Potential Growth: this topic is less obvious to policy-makers because it outlives their short political lifespan; it is about the general trend of education, research, finding ways to improve production and productivity, in short, the institutional elements fit to guarantee a solid base for growth and wealth creation. These are the issues where politics, the rule of law and economic, practical policies meet: the challenge to lay ahead is to produce adequate legislative framework to guarantee the rule of law and minimize administrative discretion over private ventures, to provide efficient and talented skilled workforce with good education and stable prospects, for both labour and business, and finally to find by ourselves, the perpetual ways to improve output and ensure growth does not do away.

The Future of Radicalism in Morocco: Tribunite or Policy-driven Alternative?

Posted in Moroccan ‘Current’ News, Morocco, Polfiction, The Wanderer, Tiny bit of Politics by Zouhair ABH on November 9, 2011

This is a bit excruciating for me. As the idea started forming in my mind, I thought it would sound and look like I have abdicated what I hold to be my core, inner beliefs. To be more precise, this is not about abdicating principles, but rather how the Radicalism trademark in Morocco might have been pushed further to the left, too much to my liking, because of the hardened position taken by Feb20. I do not disparage the risks and the police harassment they endure, but this is not the only way to get the word out an active opposition is alive and kicking.

The referendum was the starting point: I belong to this crazy group of people who thought (or still thinks) that a deep constitutional reform is the way to bringing genuine democracy into Moroccan institutions and society. The assumption upon which the whole gamble plays on is that absolute political power will create some seismic moves in every political party, topple down the old-guard in favour of some fresh new faces, and eventually piece together the political spectrum into a couple of large parties instead of the existing myriad. This is so because in that context, politicians would be genuinely held accountable by the public; On the other end of those reforms, the Monarchy, while losing all executive and judiciary power, would retain the honorary function as the unifying symbol of this nation. Or so the story went.

The sinking ship: The candle is blown, the torch too. The seal is broken as well.

After the referendum however, this fig-leaf was blown away because any political organization pushing for a constitutional reform right away after a referendum very few mainstream organization gainsaid. A more methodological state of mind would command to re-direct energies into more “popular” issues: purchasing power, income inequalities, Amazigh issues, Gender equality, Education, Security, Crime, whatever topic considered to be a bread-and-butter issue with the electorate. So far the prevailing sense among the Radical Left and those of similar loyalties gravitating around the Feb20 Movement is to keep the focus on figurehead issues, emotionally appealing but ultimately isolating the movement and confining it into an active but small nucleus of activists, like AMDH’s for instance.

And that’s where the excruciating part comes in: Am I still to be counted among the Left-wing Moroccan Radicals? I guess the “Confused” part was doing just fine, but I now feel more estranged than ever toward my party, let alone the whole political field. I disagreed on the Referendum and Elections boycott, I have been reviewing some of the proposals displayed in the 2007 Manifesto, and there goes the “fig-leaf” analogy: as long as the Radical Left (including, with a broad definition of reformism, Annahj) keeps aiming at global changes instead of looking for real issues, their credibility, as a matter of fact their whole brand of fresh politics is watered-down with perceived idealism, or worse still, elitism.It is a bit strange to conciliate seemingly contradictory notions of the Left being Tribunite and Elitist at the same time; but the fact of the matter is, this is the danger: a couple of days ago, PADS party has issued a statement stating its court action to declare November 25th General Elections to be unconstitutional. This is the perfect example of populist/elitist argument that does not appeal to real issues, and at the same time gives comfort to the very people the statement is supposed to frighten; the shot was to high, too much aimed at the moon that it actually backfires in terms of image and credibility: “PADS? why these Leftists are interested only in remote matters nobody cares!” or so goes the line.

To put it simply, many at the Radical Left leadership are rekindling with their youth, and instead of building alternatives for the ongoing politics, they have just got to relive the dream that fell short in the 1970s and 1980s. What makes it worse is the new generation of activists, all with noble intentions and high principles, but not necessarily ready -or geared for it- to play Point Counter-Point on specific issues, is pushing the old guard to engage in a more confrontational strategy. It might indeed fire up the strong supporters, but it leaves out the Silent Majority and all of the semi-sympathetic groups that do not see benefits in taking to the streets every Week-ends.

What is to be done then? Well, we need a narrative to attract the broadest possible spectrum around a precise consensus. The trouble is, the least common denominator needs to be defined within the established system; There’s Radicalism and Radicalism, and my brand is the latter: keep the Monarchy as the form of political regime, and shuffle up the rest; in the eyes of many who might disagree, the brand of radicalism is insured, and it does not attract much hostility from less ideologically motivated opponents. The narrative needs to stress issues designed to mollify social conservatism predominant across Moroccan households; The idea that improving standards of living can lead to a more progressive social mindset should be the centrepiece of the Radical discourse. Civil Rights can only be enjoyed with a good meal, a decent home and an interesting job. But this is not enough, it remains too abstract for everyone to adhere.

There is a population in this country working just as hard as everybody else, yet it pays commensurately more taxes, loses on its purchasing power over the last decade. The middle/median class is the perfect group of people the Radical Left should be embracing by providing policies designed to strengthen its income, future, security and standing in society. I suppose all of the Radical Left-wingers are Marxists, so perhaps it is a good time to leave out the philosophical trolling, and go for policy proposals that go to what shapes up social interactions and structures, the economy itself. In simple words: “It’s the Economy, Comrade.

Going down with style, PSU Boycotts Nov.25 Elections

Posted in Flash News, Moroccan ‘Current’ News, Morocco, Polfiction, Read & Heard by Zouhair ABH on September 19, 2011

One has to hand it to the comrades: when they go down, they do so in style indeed. late Yesterday, PSU National Convention voted in favour of boycotting November 25th elections. This piece of news, just like any other, has its bad and good spins. Good news, PSU has been, as usual, very open about its proceedings, and the decision to boycott was openly and democratically discussed. If this isn’t free and open partisan democracy, I don’t know what is. Bad news, too, as fellow Blogger Omar El Hayani pointed out (bitterly)

Anyway, by doing so, PSU and the Democratic Alliance lose some support among the more moderate of sympathisers and likely voters. On the other hand, these live (or are registered) in districts PSU candidates, whatever their fame and statutes, will never carry. The decision to boycott elections was, I suspect, a counter-move to appease allies on the left, and perhaps a bid to confirm party strength by postponing the crucial question of radical dissidence or moderate opposition. I fear that with the high spirits gathered during weekly demonstrations, some old-guard PSU are rekindling with their far-left youth. Nostalgia is alright, but not to the expenses of compromising the build up of a strong democratic left-leaning party.

I still believe that boycott decision is just a temporary setback. Come the 2014-2015 local elections, PSU and its Democratic Alliance partners can engage into meaningful campaigning and carry genuine popular support by trying to prove they are fit for office. I submit that a strategy disparaging parliamentary elections as idle and inefficient, while advocating local elections are the real popular test to submit to, is a winning strategy, both on the medium and short run. As for any illusions on the regime’s strength and viability, the impact of boycott on behalf of the radical left remains, truth be told, peripheral.

Yet, for all the unobliging comments the decision has triggered (among others, on the twittoma) the Radical Left can, whenever possible, show some strong numbers when it comes to elections. Once labelled elitists, Left-leaning activists can carry seats other parties fail to woo; Indeed, the candidate’s personality and charisma matter a great deal, but when ideological commitment is conjugated with those essential ingredient, the Radical Left manages to build itself safe strongholds on the electoral map. I suggest it would be a shame to lose both parliamentary and local electoral base there. And I do hope the leadership will have keen insight on the matter. Sooner or later, PSU and its allies (including Annahj by the way) will have to confront itself to the electoral litmus test, and prior local activism or elected offices are going to be crucial to deal with local Moul Chkaras, or very active PJD operatives in the area.

Since they first contested elections in 1984, the average turnout carried by New Left candidates hovered around 150,000 votes. Though the high watermark was recorded between 1993 and 1997, the numbers held steady in 2002, and have even risen in 2007, considering how all major political parties (including PJD) lost votes in the process. And yet, the New Left still fails to rise above the 5-6 seats-odd in parliament house, when its electoral base allows for a dozen seats, even 25-30 commensurate to their electoral base. Indeed, ballot system, and the features of New Left electorate doesn’t allow for an expansion in their caucus, unless the Alliance keeps on growing, a double-edge strategy, since accelerated alliances and mergers within the left-leaning field both provide it with momentum and seemingly political strength, but also makes collective endeavour in electoral competitions very hazardous: in 2007, the Alliance agreed on common tickets over 75% of all contested districts, and separate candidates in the remaining 25%. However, crucial constituencies (like Rabat) were hotly contested by party leadership, because of the symbolism it carries, and as a way to summon up the blood and exacerbate the feud with a weakened USFP. But overall, common campaigning finds favour with the electorate: in 1993, the Koutla effectively campaigned jointly on all districts, and found itself with 1/3 of total expressed popular vote, a result no coalition ever achieved before or after.

But coming back to the implications the boycott induces, I was referring to “going down in style“. Unless the party finds itself an alternative playing field, there is no way we can keep on taking to the streets every two weeks: the party needs financing, visibility on public outlets and measurable strength to submit the authorities to its will, or at least to make its voice heard with strong credibility. Annahj can afford to stand firm on its Refuseniks position because it does not function as a political party. PSU and PADS (and to a lesser extent, CNI) on the other hand, cannot.

The crucial point is, the boycott directive will not be massively followed (to the tune of 200,000 voters) and these released votes will either go into an invalidated ballot, or in favour of a third party.Thousands of these votes will go, depending on the contested district, to one party or the other. The argument is that once these voters commit to these third parties, a scheduled comeback will be as painful, as tedious and as costly as it gets for the new candidates. I suppose the 31 OADP candidates had a hard time looking for votes in 1984, as they have just made the transition from clandestine activism to “normalized” politics. It would have been best that long-term views prevailed over the temptation of getting dragged to the left over this boycott business. In this, I believe Mohamed Bensaïd Ait Idder was right in advocating to keep on campaigning:

Watching Mohamed Sassi and Najib Akesbi advocating (O so bitterly) for electoral boycott was akin to that of a disillusioned lover seeking revenge by vowing celibacy: it hurts twice, and only themselves are to be blamed for it. The 2007 and 2009 poor showing were wake-up calls: I understand the PSU enjoyed a great deal of popularity with many likely voters, and these might -just might- have gone to the polls and slip a ballot endorsing PSU candidates. Perhaps Profs. Sassi et Akesbi gambled upon this momentum to reach out for voters; they enjoy, after all, high profile publicity, immense respect across the political spectrum and with the general public (when they get to know them) and, in Akesbi’s case, a valuable electoral experience as a former USFP local board member in Hay Riad neighbourhood (Rabat). But there is a catch to a political campaign, in Morocco and elsewhere: the financial cost and risk for a candidate to undertake such an endeavour.

Because campaign funding schemes in Morocco are still rudimentary (either because candidates are old-school fund-raisers, or because of the restrictive set of regulations imposed on political funding) candidates frequently need to finance themselves, which involves either a strong belief in winning the seat, or at least to do a 3% showing, necessary to be reimbursed by State funding. PSU (and Alliance partners) failed to capture Rabat seats, and were further humiliated by not passing the 3% threshold. The same story goes for 2009. A university Professor on a MAD 150,000-200,000 annual tenure cannot afford to campaign every now and then, and systematically lose election and money. Boycott makes sense for both our leaders. But by saving money in Rabat, we lose Representatives. Lahcen Fathallah (Chtouka Ait Baha) El Mokhtar Rachdi (Jerrada) and Mhamed Abdelhak (Sidi Bennour-Ouled Frej).

Votes in 2007 encompass the alliance (AGD) and individual votes gathered by PSU and PADS candidates. PS Votes have been accrued as well.

We lose 475 local board members if the boycott applies equally to local elections. In short, an all-out boycott, for the sake of the principle, will loses the only remaining imperfect, but nonetheless the most trustworthy indicator of popularity/political strength, i.e. the electoral base. Supporting bi-monthly demonstrations might be a commendable thing to do, but it goes as far as alienate lukewarm support from otherwise potential activists, opinion leaders, funding sources, good will that isn’t readily available when PSU (and other members of the Democratic Alliance) decides to go back to elections.

Indeed I am not happy with my party’s decision. My dissatisfaction is not out of sheer alacrity for election campaigns, but because of the enumerated facts above, the single genuinely democratic party in Morocco, the party that allows open debate on important issues without stifling dissent (such as my good self in this case) cannot shut itself off the silent majority that might just be successfully wooed by the charms of our unique brand of partisan democracy. I do hope all these elements have been pondered during debate held last weekend during the Convention, and I remain nonetheless optimistic about the prospects. We might be going down with style, but this is not the first time the New Left manages a Phoenix-like comeback. We have started with 30,000 odd electoral base in 1984, we certainly can always do better. And we shall.

I assume this boycott thing is only temporary, just a signal that whatever the party’s support and its size, we are a force to be reckoned with (the party of ideas, for instance) As a matter of fact, we need time to settle down and ponder on the last few months. We need to prepare for an already much postponed conference to renew the leadership. We need to review in depth our political and economic message we try to get across. We need to shift the focus om more down-to-earth issues without losing out of sight those issues that made the “New Left” brand: deep institutional reforms. In a sense, the boycott might just well be this pretext we need to attend to these more urgent tasks. For sure, we have now conceded the next couple of matches to other parties, and this allows them to get the better of us. But then again, we have nothing but time to oppose to their watches. OADP always made it and muddled through in tougher years. We can do just as well.

“I’ll Be Back” General Douglas McArthur, Philippines, 1941.

It might take a while, but it’ll be back.