The Moorish Wanderer

Who Vote(d) Progressive in Morocco?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

regional contribution to historical average: populous regions still contribute more

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

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

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

False Patriotism and Other Tricks

The trouble with events like those we witnessed on May 23rd, is that temptation to say: “I told you so”, where pessimism takes over. The sudden stiffening of security measures -most probably prompted by the May 15th daring picnic project around the Temara security compound– may well be a turning point in the extraordinary times our domestic politics is living through. I have this strange image on my mind of the security apparatus behaving like a wild beast, a bit intimidated by demonstrations on February 20th (and those following on March 20th and April 23th) and definitely entrenched in a hostile defence. But when demonstrators wanted to picnic outside the Temara compound (dumbed Guantemara) the security services’ own lair, the latter stroke back, with their customary violence.

The Dark Side of the (Police/Merda/CMI) Force is taking over, and the Temara headquarters is their Death Star.

Two events put security forces back into the limelight, namely the Marrakesh bombings and the Temara affair. It is basically a sequential, repeated chicken game between the movement and the authorities: at every stage of this process, Feb20 chose the radical outcome, and one way or the other, got away with it. The first stage was the demonstration itself. Regime made some incredible threats, but the demonstration took place nonetheless. Then after the King’s Speech on March 9th, authorities approached the movement for a possible negotiation on the constitutional reforms, they refused to be associated with the commission; At every stage, Feb20 forced the outcome and turned the tables. But the successive blows these last weeks ring out as a recovery of old stick-and-stick policy our security people have been trained and educated for. As a matter of fact, planned demonstration next Sunday, May 29th are going to determine the movement’s next course of action.

If they fail again to mobilize enough people around Morocco, then our Evolution -in contrast with Revolutions in other parts of the MENA region– is likely to be a short fuse, and the Silent Majority, those who do not demonstrate every week, might well slip back into political apathy. This is even more crucial when considering that the movement does not have the power to set the agenda, the King does. And now time is in favour of the constitutional reform process as designed and prepared by Royal advisers; The margin shifts back to the Empire, and the Rebels are so pressed for time.

Referendum day is now scheduled July 1st. This is the only public date available (with no official confirmation yet) and was leaked to the general public, probably as a heads-up to some move in the coming month (June?) on May 18th Khalid Hariry MP mentioned the date on his twitter feed

Proposition Min. Interieur aux partis: “referendum 1 juillet, législatives 7 octobre” ouverture parlement 14 octobre

Mr Hariry may be just an ordinary Member of Parliament, but his social media activism (there aren’t much Moroccan ministers and MPs on twitter, or posting on their personal blogs around) is a convenient way to get the message out about the hidden agenda -first rule of Moroccan politics, the authorities always have a hidden agenda. This is not paranoia, it is only empirical observation. So the Interior Minister tells the MPs that referendum day might be on July 1st, with General Elections on October 7th, and most probably the new parliament in session for October 14th. That means high up, there is confidence these elections will yield some strong majority, or that party leaders will be amenable to any deal presented to them for some government coalition; better still, the old line of ‘national unity’ government following the new constitution might be appealing to mainstream political parties and large scores of Moroccan public.

This ‘rumour’ (there is no official communication about it yet) has also been mentioned by TelQuel Magazine mentioned on their edition May 19th-20th (about the same day) that the Commission has been asked to make haste on their draft:

Dernière ligne droite pour la Commission consultative pour la révision de la Constitution (CCRC). Le cabinet royal aurait demandé à la Commission d’accélérer la cadence afin de rendre sa copie, avant la fin du mois de mai, au lieu de mi-juin. En parallèle, les listes électorales sont en cours d’actualisation dans la perspective du référendum.

So we might be expecting some news on the issue by the end of this week, most likely early June. Are these good or bad news? From the dissidence’s point of view, this is disaster. Because everyday Referendum day gets closer, and when Moroccan citizens go to the polls and vote massively in favour of the proposed draft, then Feb20 movement will lose one of its remaining legitimacies, i.e. a certain representation among the people.

Repression is still there, and kicking. More than ever. (Pic from Demain Online)

I have disillusioned myself quite early on the outcome of this referendum. What I can hope for, on the other hand, is that the combined numbers of boycott (or blank votes) and the ‘No’ Vote would be large enough (say at least 30% of total electoral corps) to build up on a civic platform that would wage large demonstrations from time to time, perhaps venture to publish some alternative proposals, until it forces another reform, this time more amenable to its own agenda. As for the possibility of a swift political confrontation on July or September, or the likelihood of a mass boycott, I foresee it to be very unlikely.

I also keep thinking about the following scenario: the latest declarations of our own Ron Ziegler, Mr Khalid Naciri (Communications Minister and government spokesman) are very worrying, because the explicit criticism made on the May 23rd demonstrations was that Al Adl and Left-wingers (he did not specify which ones, certainly not his own PPS party) manipulated the youth, and were also guilty of their lack of patriotism. After his blunt denial of any torture infrastructure at the Temara Compound, Minister Naciri only confirms his favourite line, which brands dissidents and ‘nihilists‘ as potentially traitors to the nation and fully-paid foreign agents.

When one considers the previous referendums, the late King Hassan II resorted more than often to this ‘Patriotism’ line (this seem to confirm what S. Johnson said about scoundrels and patriotism) to appease opposition parties and elicit their support for his constitutional projects. Istiqlal was more than often ready to do his bidding, but overall Koutla parties held steady, especially on the 1992 Referendum, but not so much on 1996. The subsequent Alternance was also the result of this alluring proposal to save the country. Former Prime Minister Abderrahamane Youssoufi -as well as his USFP party- still justify their compromise by stating that “Morocco was in danger“. All elements indicate the same old tricks will be used and followed by the gullible.

It’s a bit overconfident -and peculiar- of the Interior Minister to tell Members of Parliament about the project of holding elections straight after referendum (spare August for a Ramadanesque truce), and even more brazen, to call parliament in session ten days after elections. It means there’s strong confidence a government with a workable majority has been formed, or that the King stepped in and called for a National Unity government (a governmental consensus built around the new constitution, presumably). I don’t know why I keep thinking about this. Perhaps because for many mainstream politicians, Feb20 has shaken their monopoly over partisan politics, so they would only too obligingly gather and denounce the demonstrations as unpatriotic and revert back to the old accusations of  ‘Commies, Atheists, Faggots, Islamists and Pro-Polisario‘.

Because of the security tightening, the old mantra of Fifth Column accusations will be yet again put to use to discredit the movement. Last Sunday, ordinary citizens stood idly by while demonstrators were beaten up. If things do get worse, the young people might be branded as traitors and lose whatever sympathy they might enjoy among the Silent Majority. This June will certainly turn out to be the moment of truth, both for the constitutional reform and Feb20’s future as an alternative movement.

The Ben Barka spoiled legacy

Posted in Flash News, Moroccan ‘Current’ News, Morocco by Zouhair ABH on October 29, 2010

I had to write about him. About his memory and subsequently, his legacy. I do apologize for a post that will differ violently from the tone of previous pieces, this is a matter of opinion that does not necessarily hold rational arguments, or shall we say, arguments of Cartesian logics. I do apologize as some of my fellow bloggers with whom I share ideas could misunderstand my point.

So there it is. He was abducted a cold day in Paris, October 29th, 1965 by venal mob, and he was never to return to his family, his party, his friends, to his country. A memory to be honoured of course, but I fear it is becoming more and more hollow. Empty of any political meaning, and more of an opportunity for old comrades to meet and reminisce about past memories.

I am certainly not bitter. Nor disillusioned with left-wing politics, but certainly at odds with leading individuals. Perhaps impassioned enthusiasm gave way to rational commitment. It is my firm belief Morocco can expect a better future under a government that upholds the left-wing values of individual and collective liberties, state religious neutrality, government transparency and fair economic policies. These I reckon to be my values too. But please, stop waving pictures of Ben Barka as though it was a sort of a ritual one has to sacrifice to every late October. It is insulting for his memory and for past struggles just to stand there in Paris, outside in the cold weather in front of Brasserie Lipp (occasionally chanting some old-fashion slogans). Perhaps the insult is not voluntarily made. Perhaps that’s one way of honouring him, and perhaps, it is good to be so. But when one looks closely to the post-1965 Moroccan politics, and with even more scrutiny into current politics, so many things happened, what was deemed solid rock, uncompromising and of a constant nature, yielded so easily and changed so rapidly decades after, much to the despair and sorrow of the Moroccan people, and in a shameful manner so that one might ask: are we close to the day to find only one honourable politician in this whole land?

Individuals, once as incorruptible as Robespierre, as uncompromising as Cromwell, as fair as Guevara, surrendered to the enticing allure of Makhzen perks. The remaining faithful are irrelevant, those that betrayed the ideals are the one to blame. What does it have to do with Ben Barka’s memory? This resolute square of old contemptibles -and please do not see in this any mark of insult- still clinging on to Ben Barka’s memory are an even louder symbol of how his ideas have been defeated, or rather, how the balance of power shifted against those who claim to be his faithful and true to his ideas. The All Moroccan public does not hold October 29th as a particularly special date, and yes, those still remembering the day are right to be his keepers. But that just stress on the unfortunate fact Moroccan politics, Moroccan left wing politics in particular, are completely remote from the common Man. I am not referring to social movements, because these are operating outside politics, even if small yet resolute political parties are taking part in it.

Politics, as an undertaking and a rallying project of society as long since been dead in Morocco (since the so-called Consensual Alternance). Voluntarism in politics, as Ben Barka saw it, did not stand much chance since the days of the late Abdellah Ibrahim‘s government:  “La cause principale de cette pauvrete [est] l’economie agricole […] qui emploie 3/4 de la population, mais ne produit que le quart du PIB” [M. Ben Barka, Ecrits Politiques 1957-1965]. Yet those in governement that claim heritage of his party and his policies made arrangements and alliances with landowners. Some of their leaders are landowners in their own right with little incentive to push forward the policies he advocated. At times where everything in Moroccan left-wing falls apart, it is always reassuring to witness hard-line commitment, but also saddening to notice their falling number, and how isolated they are. The memory of Ben Barka becomes the living -and I do assure you, there is nothing of caustic pun here- symbol of the demise of left wing. Radicalism, Socialism, Social-Democracy or Communism, call it whatever you want. The masses and the young generations are not attracted to these ideals, not in the numbers that once put the fear of god in the regime’s supporters.The Ben Barka legacy of ideas, principles and vision are an utter failure. Not because of their nature, nor because of unfortunate application in real life. They failed because those who associated themselves with them so closely betrayed them, thus rendering them so. In Moroccan politics, Men and Ideas are alike. there is nothing hasty about such a statement, simply the trivial conclusion of academia.

So, would I be calling to cease these rallies? No, and I shan’t call them rallies too. In Paris, conferences about the subject bring more Frenchmen and Maghreb-born former exiles than any other part of the Moroccan community in France or Europe. Last year I attended the conference in question and in facts, my fellow attendees looked more like an alumni of old rifles, tired and growingly old dissidents. And as I said, their regular, very respectful and dignified stand just reminds me how isolated they are, we are, in face of an assured regime that distribute favours as they saw fit to corrupt the past rivals and enemies. How would Ben Barka act if he was alive, in these precise conditions? Would he prefer exile and quiet retreat? Would he be still on the frontline of politics, leading a resolute but insignificant political party? Would he have compromised too?

In the meantime, ceremonial is all right but something needs to be done over his legacy. Soon even the senior figures will pass away, what then?