The Moorish Wanderer

Polling Day

Posted in Flash News, Moroccan ‘Current’ News, Morocco, Read & Heard by Zouhair ABH on July 1, 2011

Today July 1st is going to be the dénouement of a 4-months long peculiar process: it started with whirling optimism with the Feb20 demonstrations (whose likely induced outcome I doubted, though I felt strong sympathies with the proposed agenda) then the whole thing wildly went off-course when the King delivered his historic speech on March 9th -I, for one, would not mind considering it historic- and from then on, the dark world of crude Moroccan politics took over. Not even boycotting the Abdelatif Menouni Commission managed to restore Feb20’s popularity, mainly because of its unability to offer a viable platform to rally more support to the cause, the movement, it seems, did not expand its support base.

Now with the June 17th speech the draft constitution is most likely to pass by a large margin; the unknown variables are the No-vote and the turn-out. Because polling is severely regulated in Morocco (and outright blocked during election time) there is no way to gauge the mood of electors, so basically, about 14 Mn registered people likely to either vote or abstain, and so would do so for a myriad of reasons, and probably these motives will never be polled, mapped and explained. Every election or referendum in Morocco is a lost cornucopia of information on the political thinking and values among the Moroccan population.

In dire need for Basri expertise in bottling up the Referendum

But I digress. I believe in party discipline as the essential feature of efficient partisan organization. Discipline of course, does not mean systematic suppression of dissent, but insures potential dissent expresses itself and makes sure it does not break away from the party line (and I would welcome the institution of a Whip position within the party). And on the issue of referendum, I unfortunately find myself at odds with the PSU‘s stand on referendum day: the party wants to boycott, I vote today. As I mentioned before, I would agree with 90% of the pro-boycott argument because it makes up my own position on the referendum. I disagree therefore only on the way to voice my discontentment with whole process: I believe a No Vote carries a stronger signal and shows moderation (I cannot believe I am making the case for Moderation) so I cannot understand why PSU and the Democratic Left went with the Boycott Option. Perhaps it might have to do with the very pressuring environment the party needs to cope with within the Feb20 movement;

Otherwise, I believe party leadership -and all the Pro-Boycott people- should observe and study very carefully the 1962 Constitutional Referendum: UNFP party was stronger, more organized, better-led political party and yet, they got beaten. Of course, Hassan II-era tactics are now obsolete: we have reached a level which absolved the Interior ministry from meddling directly with the everyday politics of campaigning. the Local administrative echelon, as well as notabilities acting as local representatives are endowed with a strange sense of patriotic duty, some might describe as a zealous, lick-spittle behaviour, and can thus do their masters’ bidding. And so, they would not hesitate into pouring money -taxpayer’s money- buying off local unemployed and mob to threaten and assault dissidents, or printing pro-Constitution leaflets and signs (the great thing with the Internet, pictures are taken, websites are snapshot, providing ample material for future political LOL) in a grandiloquent flourish the late Driss Basri wouldn’t have disdained.

Civic Nihilism. What Else?

And yet, in spite of all these fine things, I remain true to my word: I have set standards above which I would vote Yes for the new constitution. These standards have not been met, and so I shall express my discontent with the proposed draft. And contrary to some influential bloggers I know, I do not pretend to lead, or to be influential. That is merely my tiny voice expressing what it considers to be the highest legal norm in the realm. I am a fledgeling citizen in a fledgeling democracy after all, am I not?

And so the vote went on. the consulate was apparently closed for the very purpose of Referendum day. Two suits (presumably from the Interior Ministry) oversaw the voting procedure: the first one took the ID card to register the voter the second handed the envelope with the Yes an No bits of paper. I noticed a little counter device over the ballot box (a transparent one) so as to keep count of voters. Unfortunately, I failed to notice anyone acting as a civic watchdog (usually political parties or NGOs delegate individuals to oversee the procedure and the vote count) that might have to do with the fact that these organizations likely to engage in such initiative are calling for a boycott.

Well, speaking for my consulate, the turnout was quite high at 10 in the morning, and the overwhelming majority voted in favour of the draft (the polling booth was filled with the No leaflets) and quite frankly, it is a high turnout. I suppose we will all be updated on the final outcome this evening.

Update —-

Now, according to the figures put forward by the Interior Ministry late this evening, the turnout was 70% (reported by my colleague and friend Hisham) a high figure considering the threat of boycott and the hurriedly put together initiatives from local officials to scramble for voters backing up the turnout.

As for PSU party and our Democratic Left comrades, it is high time we started thinking about real policies. The parties of innovative thinking have been robbed of their salient feature: the stalwart support of constitutional reforms. We would look at best ridiculous if we keep on banging about that reform; As a matter of principle, calling for genuine reforms makes sense (it always does) but in the eyes of Moroccan electorate, that image of “Loony Left” is likely to stick even closer to an already isolated ideal of radical thinking and social liberalism.

May Day And the Trade Unions Mafia

Today was the Great May Day with its colourful parades, joyful demonstrations and overflowing bouquets of red flags and roses. These are my child memories of May Day, anyway. Other than that, as far as I can trace back my own recollections of what a union does for a living (so to speak) it is either disinterest or puzzlement to the actual nature pertaining to their work.

UMT Logo, circa 1955

Well, an ill-informed judgement could not explain why unions would exist if political parties, especially left-wing ones, were already in place defending the workers’ grievances. The initial puzzlement might also be explained by the quasi-incestuous relationship many Moroccan political parties entertained (or are still doing so) with our trade unions even before 1956. Unions and Parties act like political mates, a bit like Juno, the two-faced (literally) Goddess. And unfortunately, such unhealthy proximity was operated at the expense of the very workers both political institutions vow to defend. So for all the decorum every May 1st, the parade is just a travesty of Workers’ day. This sounds suspicious of a self-confessed

With no intended pejorative connotation, Moroccan unions are a product of French colonialism. Very early after the Fes Treaty, French unions started to recruit Moroccan workers (against segregationist regulations) who, in turn, established in March 1955 their own union with the foundation of the Union Marocaine du Travail (UMT). In May 1956, the union boasted a 600,000 strong members base, i.e. about 52% of urban workforce; It maintained a close relationship with Istiqlal party, right until 1959 with the UNFP spin-off. The old-style Istiqlal in turns founded its own union in September 1959, (Union Générale des Travailleurs Marocains) UGTM. Even USFP (a UNFP spin-off) did the same in December 1978 and founded the Confédération Démocratique Du Travail(CDT) these instances (and many others) show one thing: national parties cannot thrive without a union support, so they create their own dedicated workers’ support. It looks as though these parties cannot reach out to their electorate without a parallel organization, one conveniently with no direct political agenda, but nonetheless amenable to the party’s ideology, and led by party activists and leaders. Can anyone spot the peculiarity here?

Omar Bendjelloun, the assassinated trade union leader, and perhaps the most respected and well-known of them all.

One way to explain this is perhaps because of the very tense political atmosphere following independence; parties like UNFP were regularly censored, its activists and leaders either arrested (and tortured) or prevented from carrying on their political activities; unions were a very convenient way to continue political activism without much repression; UMT union however, did not always cooperate with left-wingers: Omar Bendjelloun wrote a letter in 1963, describing vicious beating from old UMT boss Mahjoub Bensedik‘s henchmen.

“- j’espère que chacun procédera aux rectifications nécessaires, en donnant leur véritable contenu aux concepts révolutionnaires au lieu de ne s’en servir qu’occasionnellement comme alibis au service de la diffamation,

– j’espère que la lucidité triomphera en fin de compte pour éviter à chacun de devenir encore plus prisonnier d’un engrenage qu’il a lui-même engagé, ou de se laisser mettre de plus en plus devant le fait accompli,

– j’espère surtout que cette lettre soit une participation au redressement de certaines erreurs, afin que rien n’empêche plus les masses populaires sous la direction de la classe ouvrière de se libérer du joug féodal et colonial, et de s’engager aussitôt que possible dans la construction du socialisme,

– j’espère enfin que tout ce qui précède ne soit pas encore une fois mis au compte de ce qu’il y aurait en moi (ou beaucoup d’autres) de “prétentieux”, “extrémiste”, “gauchiste”… Ou tout simplement “salaud”.”

Some good trade-unionist turn out to be like Omar Bendjelloun, while many others acted like Mafiosi, but the former type gets shot or turns into martyr, the later gains comfortable  rent out of a very convenient ‘mutually destructive mechanism’ kind of relationship with the regime: save for the 1967 incident, Bensedik has been in goods terms with the authorities, and over the years, his union and the others suffered from the same ailments: ageing activists’ base and operatives, bureaucratic proceedings within the federations and branches, engagement in dubious management of mutuals and various ministerial offices, etc… This holds for most unions, including the vehement CDT and its own tribune boss, Noubir Amaoui.

What about the workers? Credit usually goes to government when there is a pay rise, and these usually affect only public sector civil servants; the stereotype of these organizations as redoubts for civil servants’ privileges is further strengthen when they join in a chorus gloating about the “victorious concessions unions managed to extract from the government”, all of this, with a shrinking union base, demonises further the very idea of collective bargaining, even though empirical evidence can substantiate the argument for such labour and wage-setting contract. So the question remains: are unions any good to the workers? I guess the same applies to political parties (i.e. are they, too, any good to citizens). The strange companionship party/union goes even further in the observed weaknesses: both organizations suffer from an acute ‘personalization’: the union is automatically identified with its leader, usually the only one since its foundation (Bensedik, Afilal or Amaoui have been quasi-lifetime bosses) and are too subject to spin-offs when some frustrated n°2 decides to jump ship and set up their own organization.

3rd UMT Convention delegates

Both organization sought the support of local notabilities for electoral purposes (in the unions’ cases, a mix between professional and legislative elections) and sometimes come to conflict when politicians want to boycott a particular process when union leaders push for active campaigning. The similarities stop there: unions have been historically more flexible in their slogans. It might have to do with trade-unionist pragmatism, but it certainly is related to the perks each union can lay their hands on; each ministerial department has their mutual fund and charities, usually managed by unions, thus the potential benefits (to the members or to the organization)

Perhaps this is too much of an exaggeration of the dead-weight unions represent. As a matter of fact my criticism is not on the very idea of organized labour, and there is argument for the eminent benefits of collective bargaining in a grand design; indeed, under the assumption of some overhaul like the Open Society project, unions are more than needed to design the nationwide labour contracts needed to redefine labour-employers relationships, conflict-solving mechanisms and finally the wage bargaining process.

Collective bargaining, in this case, brings undeniable benefits. The problem is not the institution, but the men (for trade unions are a very masculine environment) behind them. There is a great deal of corruption and inertia, all of which might -just might- fade away when the pressure for new leadership renewal becomes too much for the old power-brokers to step aside and stop eating their young. A generational gap, once a crippling handicap for unions and political parties might come in handy, solving at once incestuous relationship between party and union, as well as put an end to the corrupt environment where unions evolve. Transparency and Accountability are the watchword for the “Brothers” to heed.

Political Campaigning in Morocco – Vol.1

What can we do to improve political campaigning in Morocco? Obviously, the question is over-ambitious, simply because one cannot write-off about half a century of electoral campaigning techniques and, most importantly, the state of mind evolving from the campaign format. Still, we need a radical overhaul – so as to match the Moroccan people’s expectations.

First off, and contrary to the ambient opinion, we need to look closely at the very first campaign ever contested in independent Morocco, the 1963 Elections. These elections, and the subsequent consultations, have a critical impact on the way candidates, political parties and the administration behave and think; it is therefore not only right, but essential to understand the mechanisms that preside over the very early elections, because these are very similar, if not the same, to those put to use, say during the 2007 general and 2009 local elections.

The very first elections contested in Morocco date back to May, 17th 1963. these followed a heated referendum campaign -on which evidences of fraud and administrative meddling did not invalidate a 97% surreal score of  “Yes”. The 1962 Constitution, with its inherent flaws, at least managed to provide some workable legislative framework for the opposition parties, UNFP and Istiqlal. Nonetheless, the time lag between the official announcement for and the election kick off was suspiciously short (a month after His Majesty’s speech, on April 17th, 1963) but that did not prevent existing political parties to prepare for election: Istiqlal and UNFP, though still suspicious of each other’s motive, formed a de facto alliance against the FDIC, an  ad hoc group hurriedly put together by a confident of Hassan II, with the Mouvement Populaire, Ahmed Guédira’s Parti Socialiste Démocratique and, more bizarrely, the Choura and Istiqlal Party, all together in the Front de Défense des Institutions Constitutionnelles (FDIC).

Here, size and strength were valuable assets, indeed, Istiqlal was more prepared compared to UNFP (something that might have to do with the increasing repression from the regime) and as early as April 13th,  and made the double safe choice to endorse candidates unlikely to cause problems to almost-brother-in-arms UNFP as well as traditional notabilities. Ben Barka‘s party reciprocated in a more discreet fashion, while excluding pro-UMT union from the candidates’ short-lists. Because both parties have good experience in partisan organization, FDIC campaign seems unsure of itself and there was a confusion between spontaneous local candidacies and the official endorsement from on top, all of which did not help reassure the electorate about how serious a new coalition of parties is in its claim to be the natural coalition of government (as it was already the case under the Premiership of king Hassan II).

690 candidates competed for 144 seats, and the campaign kicked off officially on May, 2nd. Overall the tone was quite violent (although more verbally so in newspapers than it was during public meetings) and arguments can qualify, in modern campaigning jargon, as ‘negative campaigning’: Istiqlal and its media spokesperson, Al Alam, maintained sustain criticism of the perceived potential power abuse:

Elle le somme de se démettre de ses fonctions de Directeur général du Cabinet royal et de Ministre de l’Intérieur pour ne pas compromettre le Souverain dans les luttes politiques et ne pas influencer le déroulement des élections. Cette tactique permet de ne pas mettre directement le Roi en cause tout en le mettant en garde contre les dangers de la situation présente. [L’élection de la chambre des représentants au Maroc, Octave Marais – Annuaire d’Afrique du Nord 1963]

Overall, public meetings are the preferred way to get in touch with the electorate, especially in large cities like Casablanca; In smaller cities or rural regions, all parties try their best to attract local notabilities, as the only efficient mean to attract the largest possible count of voters, though FDIC candidates have the benefit of biased neutrality in their favour from local authorities (Moqadem, Cheikh, Khalifa, etc…) a support Istiqlal and UNFP desperately denounce as the hand of the administration meddling in political elections.

Mehdi Benbarka during an electoral meeting, 1963

On the media side, each party rely on their own newspaper to influence voters, though such mean quickly reaches its limitation in view of the high illiteracy rates, and the effect of the media remain confined to urban centres: UNFP has ‘المحرر’ Istiqlal ‘العلم’, while FDIC, thanks to its limitless resources, fielded more than one newspaper, and many of those were French-speaking: ‘Les Phares’ ‘La Clarté’ and ‘وطنك’; the FDIC propaganda, while engaging in the same negative campaigning the opposition got stuck with, also entertained a certain confusion in its message: it denigrated Istiqlal leader Allal El Fassi, and at the same time orchestrated a large-scale cult of personality to the benefit of Hassan II, so as to induce voters to think of FDIC as ‘the King’s party’ (and conversely, of UNFP and Istiqlal as subversive bodies).Parallel to the media campaign, FDIC relies on repetition of colours and symbols -rather than words and content- to capture the voters’ attention (and memory)

“Les affiches et les tracts sont moins faits pour être lus que pour être vus et pour imposer par leur répétition la couleur des bulletins du parti et la photographie des candidats”.

The impression observers had on this election was puzzling: candidates looked very much active (even activist) during campaigning, as well as fully aware of the issues involved. The electorate, however, seemed far from understanding what the elections was about. Save perhaps for UNFP, whose campaign in large coastal cities (Rabat, Agadir, Casablanca to name a few) managed to yield comfortable majorities to the candidates (soon members of parliament)  Subsequently, the political message or any kind of manifesto item were skipped in favour of presentational stunts:

“Durant la campagne, certains candidats, appartenant à tous les partis […] s’efforcent d’acquérir la sympathie de leurs concitoyens en restaurant les anciennes coutumes d’hospitalité ostentatoire. Ils tiennent table ouverte en permanence, accueillant les fqih et les tolbas, secourent les nécessiteux…”

This gives the big picture, a very brief summary of the campaign (and there were important similarities between the local and legislative elections in 1963) Now, what about the techniques? what was written in the leaflets for instance? Or what kind of speech was made when meetings were organized? How party activists were indeed organized to convey their party’s message?

In Rural areas, private meetings with local notabilities were more efficient, especially when there was only one candidate ‘in town’ – these notabilities in turn directed their fellow neighbours to vote for the candidate of their choice. These local leaders had good chance to obtain votes, either because of their social status within the local tribe, or because of their charisma (equivalently, a local teacher can have about the same reach as a local fqih for instance) This heavy reliance on local intermediaries partially made up for the weak partisan structure: both Istiqlal and UNFP had no extensive branches in rural areas (the largest electoral population) and FDIC parties, especially MP, had but these local notabilities to relay their manifesto.

An example of this weak partisan grasp over local matter can be found in the delay of a week Istiqlal had to endure before a top-down assignment can be communicated to the local branches – during the 1963 local elections, the alleged UNFP “July 1963 plot” broke up the fragile alliance between both parties, and some Istiqlal moderate started to defect to FDIC, even as central Istiqlal organs wanted to show solidarity with UNFP. In Urban areas however, the scheme was common to all parties: leaflets and posters with distinctive colours and pictures of candidates, large public meetings trying to attract as many citizens as possible, though the most efficient mean was again to get in touch with intermediaries, small gatherings of less than 15 persons. the message matters little; but that might have to do more with the narrow target of educated voters.

In any case, these basic electoral tactics -the reliance on local leaders rather than reaching for a larger audience, as far as the duo Istiqlal-UNFP is concerned, were dictated under the circumstances of dire resources (a deposit of MAD 1,000 per candidate was required, not to mention expenses for printing leaflets and posters, newspapers edition and related cost for meetings, diners, invitations of notabilities, etc. All these expenses were necessary for the opposition parties because other means, more powerful (like the radio) were not available to them; UNFP campaigned in a crisis mode (as many candidates were either arrested or beaten during the campaign); that explains why party activists did poorly in linking to the electorate, or why traditional means of conveying their respective parties’ message.

What Would the Political Landscape Look Like in a Federal Morocco?

As many may already know, one of Morocco’s plight is its abnormal number of political parties. This has been mistaken for democracy -and often used as an argument that ‘Morocco is a democratic exception in the region‘- and often overlooked as the result of a ‘divide and conquer‘ policy from the Makhzen regime to insure its own political hegemony. What follows is a scenario that provides enough conditions to sort out this motley of political parties, and without substantial threats to political diversity but prevents the undesirable outcome whereby small political parties act pivotal in coalition governments, as it is the case in countries like Israel or Italy.

First, we need to point out that many of these political parties have common history, ideology and even leadership at one time. As a matter of fact, many of the breakaways were mainly ego clashes more than anything else. This is mainly due to the fact that political organizations in Morocco, whatever their professed position on the political spectrum, have been strongly identified with their leader. And the lack of internal democracy, as well as non-existent mechanisms for pacific competition and clear rules of power brokerage, or even the refusal of dissent within political parties in Morocco, whether from the National Koutla heritage or ‘Administrative Parties‘, made it possible for ambitious leaders to justify their departure from the mother-ship.

Abdellah El Hammoudi‘s seminal work, “Master and Disciple” finds ample field application here: without too much generalization or extensive use of stereotypes, political parties in Morocco act like ‘Zawyas’ (زاوية) or religious covens, with a father figure(head), a ” زعيم” whose authority, by means of political capital (as a former resistant, or as a proxy for political martyrdom) is unshakable and uncontested. This Zaim has some disciples gravitating around him (for the political world in Morocco is predominantly masculine) and, when the time comes (literally, when the leader is on his deathbed) a Dauphin is chosen. But it is often not the case; the leader clings to power so forcefully that, out of frustrated ambition, a disciple openly defies the master, and when the coup fails, the disciple leaves the political Zawias with his ‘Faithful’ flock and founds a new one, with him as the new Master, and so goes the story.

Foto de Alal al Fassi

Allal El Fassi (Image via Wikipedia)

As a matter of fact, the splits have played a significant part in the founding myths of modern Moroccan politics: it is often claimed that the oldest political party in Morocco was the Istiqlal (founded with the well-known 1944 manifesto for Independence) what is little know was that earlier on, there were other pre-existing political organizations. Indeed, in 1934-1937, there was a rift between two main figures of modern Moroccan nationalism, both Fes-born Allal El Fassi, and Mohamed Belhassan Ouazzani. It seems a conflict of egos (as well as a dispute over Sherifian legitimacy, which Allal El Fassi lacked) led to a split between both man, and each one founded a new party out of the defunct Committee for National Action: El Fassi founded what became later on the Istiqlal and Ouazani Choura (or Democracy) and Istiqlal party.
The sociology of political parties however, is not always that linear. The script is not always observed, as there are from time to time attempts to unite, with a quasi-nostalgia for the ‘old days‘ when Istiqlal and UNFP, in face of adversity, tried as early as 1970 to build up a Koutla (the chosen word conveys the strong feeling about uniting the parties, at least in the leaders’ minds)

These structural weaknesses were exacerbated, if not outright created, by an explicit policy aiming at weakening the political field as much as possible to the benefit of the Monarchy: in 1959 with the UNFP breakaway from Istiqlal party, the Crown Prince was more than pleased to see the Istiqlal juggernaut split between its traditionalist clan and more left-wing faction. Even before, in 1957, and despite pungent opposition from Istiqlal civil servant, the Monarchy offered more than sympathetic support to the foundation of Mouvement Populaire (MP) as early as 1957.

Mahjoubi Aherdane, a former colonial officer (like General Oufkir and Marshall Ameziane) presented with an award by king Hassan II.

These early examples of political intrigue look very benign when compared to the galloping rise in the number of political parties in the late 1990s. the late Interior Minister, Driss Basri elevated these breakaways to rarefied proportions: in the mid-1980s, and because of a minor row between stalwart monarchy supporter -and MP boss- Mahjoubi Aherdane and the late king Hassan II, Driss Basri orchestrated a breakaway led by a relatively young MP leader, Mohand Laenser. Aherdane had to leave and create his own political party, the MP (ever since, both parties, and a third one, Union Démocratique, coalesced back into the original MP)
This policy was even used against political parties that resisted the Royal Will: in 1996, and because of its uncompromising stand on the upcoming constitutional referendum tabled later that year, the Organisation d’Action Démocratique et Populaire (OADP) suffered a spin-off thanks -or because- of a discreet support from the Interior Ministry.

How would the political landscape look like in a federal monarchy? First, the number of political parties is likely to go down, but not in significant proportions: we stand now at about 30 parties, while a reduction to pre-2002 numbers would at least takes us back to more ‘reasonable’ levels.

Hopefully, with more democracy, transparency and accountability in the federal and regional institutions, political parties in Morocco will also learn that dissent within their organization is not a mortal danger, a fitna that needs to be put down as soon as possible, but the basic element of partisan democracy, and, in the long term, the essential ingredient for political vitality and political personal renewal. That would also mean a lowering in the average demographics from 70+ years old -for partisan politics is still, regrettably, a gerontocracy, though it can be argued that with age, wisdom withers away with politicians like Mahjoubi Aherdane, Mohamed EL Yazghi, Abbas El Fassi or the late Union boss Mahjoub Benseddik.

Parliament House, Rabat. Why not: "Federal Houses Of the Kingdom ?"

Some of the small parties have regional strongholds (sometimes because a party figurehead is popular there) and cannot go beyond that stronghold for a variety of reasons: difficulty to attract resources in an other area, not enough grass-roots activists to try and swing target constituencies back from other political parties, demographics, sociology, etc… But still, these parties can perform better, if given the opportunity to focus on local matters rather than over-ambitious nation-wide representation. In a federalist scheme (that has been ultimately rejected by the Regional Consultative Commission) there could be workable scenarii that can allow nationally  small by strongly established in specific regions- parties to have a say in local matters, and at the same time retaining some leverage over federal issues, without stumbling into parliamentary civil war.

There can be no denying that political parties like USFP, Istiqlal, PJD or MP have de facto a nation-wide vocation for governing (real government in a genuinely democratic Morocco is a sine qua none working condition)  In contrast, PSU, PADS and other smaller parties, cannot, with the current political arithmetics hope for sizeable numbers of seats on the federal level,  but do retain strong majorities in specific areas, and could very well end up holding majorities in regional parliaments, or on par with the national parties.

On a local level, coalitions would therefore be established on ideological, rather than crude tactical reasons: I would argue that a left-left coalition in, say the Souss region encompassing the PSU, PADS and USFP would be much more powerful, much more coherent than the existing own between USFP and Istiqlal.  In effect, homogenous coalitions are needed because, under my proposed schemes, regional houses need to send up representatives to the Federal Parliament, and usually these Members of Parliaments are supposed to reflect stable coalitions and some agreed-upon manifesto, all of which will be more difficult to sustain if currently observed patterns of alliances (with bizarre patchworks of centre-right RNI, centre-left USFP and conservative Istiqlal) are retained. Furthermore, and from a purely game-theoretical aspect, homogeneous coalitions (with respect to the local voters’ verdicts in local elections) tend to be closer to the peoples’ will, and for the senior coalition partners, a deterrent from straying away from manifesto commitment -otherwise, smaller parties can threaten to vote out the ‘consensus’ federal representative.

Does it sound familiar? Yes and no. Indeed, small parties will hold considerable leverage on nation-wide ones, directly on local matters, and indirectly by influencing their federal deputies. However, this mutual check mechanism ensures a ‘toe-the-line’ behaviour from the senior partners, something that is at odds with the observed pattern in governmental majorities since 1963 of weak coalitions and similarly weak governments; quite the opposite, I would argue that this seemingly unstable regional consensus ensure coherent nationwide majorities, and following, consistent parliamentary groups in the federal houses, thus enabling the very existence of a strong government. In effect, regional representatives are double checked and, held equally accountable: at a first level from the local constituents, and on a more institutional level, the regional coalition that send them up to Rabat.

With such heavy deterrent (not to mention party pressure to follow the party Whip’s lines) local representatives’ dissent or ‘transhumance‘ as they usually do will come at a high price for coalition partners, and in the intermediate run, to the dissenters themselves. On the other hand, federal representatives also know that their parties’ national majorities, when in government, are function of coalition agreements at a local level, and though deterrent pressure is mitigated as far as they are concerned, they remain equally compelled to bear with their parliamentary benches.

Of course, all of this is all right, but it remains fairy-tale as long as political parties themselves do not take actions in order to put order in their partisan houses: younger leadership, more transparent and meritocratic competition mechanisms, and more importantly, partisan democracy and the elevation of dissent from danger to democratic virtue.

The Lowest Turnout Ever -Yet

It is a bit early. In facts, too early to say. There is still almost two years to go before the next general election scheduled for 2012 (but the King can always change his mind and call for an early election, just like he would delay it) but the result is fairly easy to anticipate the results: low turnout, a more fragmented than ever parliament, and no real, committed ruling coalition.

Perhaps the now popular PAM (the monarchist Parti Authenticité & Modernité) will be part of it, but it is unlikely to get a large majority to rule by itself. Historic data shows it: no political party can rule Morocco. No coalition has ever done so by itself; We claim to be a constitutional democratic and social Monarchy, yet the power remains, by law, by constitution and De Facto in the King’s hands. In these conditions, voting for a party is meaningless; Why try to give legitimacy to an institution that does not hold real power then? The largest party in the lower house, cannot muster individually more than 30% of the total seats, whatever their political philosophy -when they do have one.

It is spooky how constant the political institutions in Morocco are: apart from the monarchy that is, over a little less than half a century, no political party -constituted political party- has ever managed to reach an outright majority, and as such, all of the governments since the first elected parliament -1963-  all coalitions where too weak to be government majority -as well as being a complete fabrication, the so-called administrative parties-.

1963 Elections. 141 Seats, no outright majority. (Source: Barnabé Lopez Garcia, "Cuarenta anos de procesos electorales" Arabic version, 2009)

The 1963 elections were the first ones in Morocco. the main competitors were the historic main party, the Istiqlal,  its left-wing breakaway, the UNFP (Union Nationale des Forces Populaires, 1959) and the FDIC (Front de Défense des Institutions Constitutionnelles) an aggregate of parties that was put together to provide for a  “workable” majority, to the king’s convenience.  the FDIC was made up with the help of the Mouvement Populaire (MP) that was founded in 1957 to counter Istiqlali influence, the Parti Socialiste Democratique, an empty structure Ahmed Reda Guedira, King Hassan II‘s right-hand man and finally, a junior partner, most difficult to explain, the Choura & Istiqlal Party (PDI), the only partner that can be described as a “national party” (following the canonic dividing line between administrative and national parties in Morocco). This heterogeneous front was supposed to win the elections decisively, but failed in the process, though it managed to get the highest vote count, but still short of the absolute majority.

A. Ouadghiri’s accounts of the campaign are quite edifying:

“[…] à quelques jours de l’échéance, elle se ranime par de nombreux meetings tant des gouvernementaux que des opposants, par des distributions de tracts et de manchettes de journaux […]Au fond, le FDIC n’a pas obtenu après coup la majorité absolue. Il ne la retrouve qu’en racolant quelques indépendants […] l’UNFP, en dépit de la modestie de ses moyens, a un succès incontestable au sein du prolétariat urbain qui lui accorde une confiance massive. La surprise électorale au sein de ce prolétariat urbain, c’est la victoire de Guédira, chef de file du FDIC qui l’emporte à Casablanca dans un quartier d’ouvriers, ce qui fait dire à l’opposition (Ndlr, the UNFP and Istiqlal) que c’est grâce au blé américain distribué “à gogo” aux familles ouvrières casablancaises que le proche collaborateur du Roi a emporté son siège à la chambre des représentans. […] Cette accusation contre Guédira est concrétisée par une démarche effectuée auprès de l’ambassade des Etats-Unis d’Amérique à Rabat par un groupe de 5 Istiqlaliens[…]”. (Le Maroc: de la Mort de Mohammed V à la Guerre des Sables 1961-1963, 1981 Edition)

This election is quite specific: it was the first one, the opposition parties were not even convinced of its validity -because no constitutional convention was held beforehand as they were promised, and the constitutional referendum showdown’s effects were still vivid in their mind. Still and all, the whole thing looked as if the new king wanted a parliament for tactical purposes. facade-wise, it was a good publicity for the newly founded Moroccan democracy: not too conservative, but not too radical either. Anyhow, the balance of power was outside parliament as the years to follow were to show.

Two years after, the king declared a state of emergency after the students riots; On June 1965, he was effectively the absolute ruler of the land. Morocco had to wait until 1977 to get its post-state of emergency elected parliament. The result came as a shock to many parties, especially to the opposition, now gathered within the Koutla: the June 1977 legislative elections delivered some 140 MPs, among which 81 were directly elected, the Istiqlal party was trailing behind with about half the number, and the USFP with 15 members of parliaments. These SAP (Sans Appartenance Politique) were slowly turned out into a party starting from October 1978, when the Rassemblement National des Indépendants was founded and De Facto, the main coalition party under the leadership of the incumbent Prime Minister Ahmed Osman – Hassan II’s brother-in-law. the SAPs, and later on, the RNI, were part of a coalition government that gathered also Istiqlal and the Mouvement Populaire (a workable majority of over 80% seats). But the coalition was fragile: the Istiqlal participation was not wholehearted, and so was the Mouvement Populaire’s involvement (there was a split between the two historic founder Dr El Khatib and Aherdane). it eventually broke down when, shortly before 1984 elections, the RNI suffered a split, when a rogue group of MPs (57 to be precise) founded in June 1982 the Parti National Démocrate (PND). The spin-off was symptomatic of the instability of the ruling coalition and therefore, its weakness in managing the country by themselves.

The same process iterate itself with during the Maati Bouabid government in 1981. Instead of getting non-partisan individuals and then merging them together in a brand new party, the incumbent prime minister was given the task to create a new party ahead of the election. A party ostensibly economically conservative (libéral would be the precise term) Late 1982, he issued a declaration to an array of middle and high-ranking officials, private firms executive officers… the intermediary elite so to speak; the content can be summarized in few bullet points: Monarchy and institutional support and consolidation of the present democracy. There was demur about the project of creating a new party, but eventually, in April 1983, the newly founded Union Constitutionnelle (the name is a sort of a pied-de-nez to the opposition party USFP) was to be the standard-bearer of the policies Morocco has to implement as part of the Structural Adjustment Program imposed by the IMF after the reserve currency and debt crisis Morocco and other third-world countries faced early 1980’s. The party managed to get 55 seats during the 1983 elections, secured 5 portfolios, but was supporting a technocrat prime minister (M. Karim-Lamrani) In short, the 1980’s, besides being a period of confrontation between the left-wing opposition (some USFP MPs refused to keep their seats when the King decided to extend the parliament session) was such that some political parties provided the numbers for legislative process, but had no real say or authorities to that matter. Strangely though, a prominent partner of the Koutla, the Istiqlal party, was member of this government. It just shows how weak coalitions are, whether in opposition or government, there is, as far as the 1980’s were concerned, no stable coalition, a brilliant illustration of cooperative game theory.

Save for the FDIC in 1963, large parties cannot provide for more than 30% of the seats in the lower house (the Parliament, or the seats subject to direct election, following the different regimes between 1963 and 1984)

1993 was, in the King’s own terms, a disappointment. He was expecting an “Alternance” government (and apparently, M. Boucetta was considered a suitable Prime Minister, a position he turned down) but the opposition Koutla, denouncing gross falsifications during the legislative campaign, refused to continue the negotiations with the monarchy about a possible transfer of government (other roadblocks arose, mainly about the interior department that was under the firm hand of Driss Basri) and things went as they were before: obedient administrative parties and their MPs supporting a government that had legitimacy outside parliament, in the King’s trust. Following the 1993 results, the political map of parliament was even more fragmented than before.

Things started to go worse from that time onwards. I wish I wouldn’t say it, but it looked as though at the twilight of his reign, king Hassan II wanted to weaken the political opponents to the extent they would pose no threat to the then crown-prince, now king Mohamed VI. And if there was any such project, it certainly did reach its objective, for the following elections, opening up parliament for opposition parties -admittedly, to prepare the Alternance Consensuelle– increasingly changed into a house of multitude of parties, each pulling for something, regardless of their origin, political loyalty or size. 2002 and 2007 are no difference to that.

Elections. Why Bother?

Why the boring facts and the even more boring history? It is necessary so to show that first, parliamentary parties are notoriously weak. Not that I favour the introduction of chief whip position in Moroccan parliamentary politics -even though it will be of great benefits no doubt- but no party can really claim the full support of their MPs. In facts these very MPs, usually local barons, are the ones controlling the large parties at some point. It has been the curse of the USFP and moderately (and increasingly as their thrust for power grows more insistent) that of the PJD, that for a party to grow beyond a critical threshold, they need the support of local notabilities, and they have to come to terms with them one way or the other, usually at the expenses of their proclaimed principles. So, besides weak discipline among the parliamentary parties, configuration for coalitions are equally weak. Before I elaborate on that, some figures are worth to point out: 5 parties were represented in the 1963 parliament, 8 in 1984, 21 in 2002. In 1984, the three largest parties had 3 seats out of 4 in parliament. In 2007, only 40%. Starting from 1997, the likelihood of a “strong coalition” grew smaller than ever. Coalitions, under formalized conditions, are not meant to be stable when they operate under the rule of a majority, because any junior partner can leave it, thus pulling it apart. And that is particularly true in Moroccan politics. The fact government majority are stable across time in Morocco -as indeed they are- is irrelevant; it is he sheer paradox in their inner composition that should confirms how fragile and volatile they are.

When parliament is not the actual holder of legislative power, and when government does not answer to this very parliament, then there is no need for that body, or rather, there is no need for voting for them. I am quite sure may MPs are of good heart and honourable intentions, but politics is about institutions, ideas and principles. I can see none of those in our بارليمان .

If it is going as usual, I am not voting on September 2012. And I shall derive painful pleasure in watching the Moroccan people given a puppet Prime Minister. You have been warned.