The Moorish Wanderer

Moroccan Elections for the Clueless Vol.11

Why is parliament doing such a poor job in scrutinizing government? The image of a hilarious Rep. Yasmina Baddou and Health Minister embodies the symbol of the degree of contempt the elected executive holds parliamentary oversight.

True, many of our representatives might be utterly incompetent and generally corrupt, but as long as the bulk of members of parliaments are elected on the basis of family ties, or because of their notability status, ministers and governmental officials can always laugh away from accountability.

First off, even if a handful of representatives are keen on doing their job, they are constrained by the small budget allocated to their institution; the 2011 Budget allocate MAD 271.5 Million;In fairness, about the same amount is allocated to the lower chamber (235Mln) which means the legislative branch has an overall financial stipend of 0.17% of total Budget expenses.

It still is way below the proper funding for all elected representatives to conduct proper investigative work on the executive. Why bang on the discrepancies in budget terms? Because money conditions resources and funds power and political importance: I understand parliament has aForeign Affairs, Islamic Issues and National Defence committee, and there are, among the 30-strong group of representatives, some very able, public-spirited individuals that would carry on their duties frightfully well.

A poorly-funded branch of government cannot carry on properly its duties in a truly democratic regime

However, are they allocated the proper resources to scrutinize, for instance, the budget allotted to the Armed Forces? Budget Bill for 2011 funds the Armed Forces some MAD 58Bn (Art.44) but it seems our representatives do not have what it takes to exercise proper oversight on these spendings; Theoretically, they can always ask for details, convene to audition officials at the liaison ministry in charge of national defence, or even attach amendments if they deem spendings are not justified. But they don’t. Perhaps out of incompetence, or lack of proper resources to provide them with relevant information, or simply because they don’t care.

The point is, the legislative branch has no mean to assert its power over the executive, and that shows primarily in its financial resources; but is it fair to equate material resources with political power? yes; whenever members of parliament need to carry out an inquiry, or set up a study on a particular issue, they need to rely primarily on the good will of administrative and executive officials, who can very well refuse to cooperate or disclose relevant information. Rep. Brahim Zerkdi (who’s modern enough to have a twitter account, alongside Rep. Khalid Hariry) points out the poor level of human resources at their disposal, and goes as far as to agree that the ministries have a certain advantage in dealing with specific issues, mainly because they can afford to.

So financial support plays a crucial role in shaping up political balance of powers; the trouble for parliament is the potentially unpopular with the public opinion, and even if they try it, they will have to almost beg the money off the finance ministry.

Rep. Zekdi (MP - Agadir Ida Ou Tanane) agrees Minefi has an unfair advantage in preparing the Budget Bill

These unbalanced ties between the legislative and executive branches of government could go unnoticed or even justified, especially when one puts them into context: after all, the Treasury department in the United Kingdom is almighty, and under then-Chancellor Gordon Brown, it was an executive fortress within a Blair-led Prime Ministerial fortress. The trouble is, both Gordon Brown and Anthony Blair were elected Members of Parliament (respectively Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath, and Sedgefield) and thus, can claim some popular mandate on their own.

Many of our ministers are not elected, though; indeed, the one holding the cash -Finance Minister Salaheddine Mezouar- has long been considered a bland, un-partisan and vaguely technocratic figure.In these circumstances, the obvious benchmark for a genuine parliamentary monarchy goes right out of the window in favour of a United Congress-like scrutiny, where elected representatives are the ones re-writing the budget -considering a government in Morocco needs a parliamentary majority.

It is in our nation’s best interest to have the strongest possible coalition government after November 25th elections, in addition to a stronger parliament oversight by reconsidering the budget-writing process, so as to get representatives involved with the process as early as possible; then, an increase in their budget will not only be necessary, but actually desirable from a public opinion point of view; additionally the deadlocks of “money with no power” that have so perverted elected politicians will give way to genuine accountability;

At the heart of our institutional dysfunction is this seemingly conundrum: “can we trust elected politicians with genuine political power?” Yes. So far, concentrating power within the hands of a small clique of unelected officials hasn’t done any better, and how ever incompetent the elected bunch are, they will be whipped up by public anger if they don’t carry on their job properly. The fear of systematic electoral retribution could well prove to be a much sought panacea.

There Is No Alternative… and a U-Turn is no alternative, either

Posted in Flash News, Moroccan ‘Current’ News, Morocco, Tiny bit of Politics by Zouhair ABH on February 9, 2011

The looks were pretty similar. Baroness Thatcher is not natural blonde, though.

Did you see the picture? Meryl Streep bears striking similarities with the Iron Lady, and I am looking forward to the movie. But that is another matter. What I want to post about is Constitutional Reforms. “Oh, that old pensum”, one might think, that pops around when the left-wing radical has no other idea to discuss. Yes but this time, it’s real politics. And perhaps the chance for the monarchy to choose a different course of action.

It is rumoured, more and more insistently too, that there is a constitutional reform in the offings. The wires might be crossed, but it seems now -and I thank Annouss for this idea- that the new frontier for constitutional change is the extended de-centralization, a devolution as it were, that would end once for all the Sahara problem, and at the same time square the last advocates for real constitutional reforms. The Modus Operandi is still unclear, and the most moderate among the pro-reform radicals are gambling on that to take away the maximum amount of reforms, which ranges from an upgrade version of the 1997 de-centralization bill, to a full, federative monarchy, which would be not only a breakthrough in the MENA region, but would even set the standards in Europe and elsewhere in the world.

To put it bluntly, this regionalism stuff could be either a bitter disappointment or an unexpected stunt. It is high time M. Azimane presented His Majesty, and the nation, with his findings, so that the officials can proceed with the process. (come to think of it, His Majesty might have already received the report…)

Unless the recent events in Tunisia, Egypt, most likely in Yemen or even neighbouring Algeria were putting off the officials from implementing the reforms, for fear it might be construed as panicky concession, thus furthering public thrust for more freedom. The slippery slope, they would argue. (From now on, I’d refer to the officials in charge of policy-making as “the top brass”, just a matter of convenience) Perhaps 2012 is the new deadline; Constitutionally, the King is entitled to call off elections when sees fit -and that resulted in a brawl in the 1980s when rebellious USFP Members of Parliament refused the Regal decision- but still, it would be construed as a cooling-off period for a great design that, in the top brass’s view, should not be sullied by electoral process. Who knows how these people think… (Note: again if they recruit brainy people to sort out the policies, I may be interested… )

Let’s cast aside the prepared February 20th demonstrations and the frenzy of the half-witted ranting tediously against them. Tabula Rasa, ok? I understand my approach is somewhat flawed; Political science and real-life politics do not work like economics. There is no point in trying to isolate effects; This approach however, allows to consider the constitutional reform in a broader sense. As a principle. And when time comes, I’d try to link it up with the current events. First, by conventional standards, it has to be agreed that the current constitutional set is not democratic: the monarchy is constitutional, but the constitutional is not democratic. And the press, as well as the public should do away with the rather cheap argument that ‘our neighbours are worse’. Because it contradicts the other popular argument ‘Morocco is different’. In any case, Morocco might end up in the stead of East Germany: late 1980’s, Erich Hönecker was adamant East Germany already had its Glasnost, and yet, it was the first country on the iron curtain to come tumbling down. Not that I see any parallelism between the MENA region, Morocco on the one hand, and East Germany and Eastern Europe on the other, but I’d broach the top brass to think twice before claiming -or getting their puppets to do so- that Morocco have already implemented its reforms, and that it might not go further.

Going back to the constitutional reform; It is now obvious that not only the reform is necessary, but it is officially considered as a ‘political correct’ kind of political claim, and that even the top brass is getting amenable to the idea. The vehicle to achieve this reform is of course the regionalization card, the last one the official line claims to be the last piece in the grand democracy Morocco is enjoying. The recent troubles are just putting the implementation of such reforms off.

What does the man in the street thinks? Not much perhaps. He or She are more anxious about rising prices -a possible trigger for social unrest- and the immediate measures the government takes to defuse any possible crisis. Plus word have been put on not to antagonize the regular demonstrators. To be ‘nice’ to the underdog for fear they might turn berserk and spark the much feared riots. But then again, the more ostentatious these policies are publicized, the more conspicuous the top brass look in their inability to come up with a more long-term, sensible solution. Unless they would prepare for a stunt in 2012.

So 2012 could well be the constitutional year. A word of caution though: whatever the decision they would come up with, there is a high probability I would find it to be half-backed. Too shy in reforms at best. So I am speculating on 2012 as the possible turning point for the speculation’s sake. So, 2012, instead of delivering an election, would give us a Royal Speech arguing for wide-ranging consultations that would eventually lead to a constitutional referendum on the new de-centralization. The centrepiece would be devolved assemblies with relatively extended powers. A good move to strengthen local democracy, and in the Sahara, undercut separatist claims (an even bolder move is to appeal to Polisario to join in and run these assemblies from within Moroccan sovereignty). In any case, it’s going to be wait and see for 2012: either an election or a constitutional referendum (or both !)

The trouble with such promising perspective, is that it is the final frontier. There is nothing beyond this ultimate set of reforms. The finally final concession -and even yet another harvest of ex-left wing radicals turned zealots for the regime. The question remains: can the regime afford to duck pressing institutional calls for reform by pulling together a half-backed reform? The writings’ on the wall. And failure yet again might just feed growing resentment and increase the likelihoods of a disastrous outcome sensible minds would not contemplate for Morocco.

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.