The Moorish Wanderer

The Case for Real Partisan Democracy

Posted in Moroccan Politics & Economics, Morocco, Polfiction, Read & Heard, The Open Society Project by Zouhair ABH on January 13, 2012

… and ultimately result in a reduction of the number of parties around.

November 25th General Elections reversed a trend observed since 1997: smaller parties endorse strong candidates for a winning ballot, depriving larger, mainstream parties from bigger caucuses in parliament, and in the process preventing strong coalitions to emerge. The proportional ballot tends to harm larger parties in specific constituencies when a smaller party (usually a breakaway group) manages to capture some votes and thus deprive the bigger party from gaining more seats on district slots.

But during this election, from all 33 competing parties, 18 managed to gain at least one seat, and seven top caucuses concentrate 90.5% of all 305 seats available on local ballot. One of the top seven parties –USFP– concentrates about the same number of seats the remaining 11. Needless to say that this is an improvement from 2007, where the top 7 parties had concentrated only 78% of local ballot seats, while 17 parties (and not 11) shared the remaining 65 seats. By HHI measures, concentration increased from 0.09 to 0.15. In politics, a concentrated parliament delivers stronger -and more accountable- government majority.

One of the reasons why so many parties are around is perhaps the lack of internal democracy within political parties, including those belonging to the historical Koutla; The process described by Abdellah Hamoudi is indeed very current: the leadership, more of an aggregate of father-figures, if not outright proponents of gerontocracy, kick out (or are kicked out of) the younger dissent that challenge their leadership, and these in turns create another party that seeks to capture the disgruntled activists. Post-1956 political history is littered with instances: In 1959, Mehdi Benberka, Abderrahim Bouabid and Abdellah Ibrahim decided to breakaway from the more traditional leadership in the person of Allal El Fassi and Mohamed Boucetta, and go on to found UNFP; Mohand Laenser in 1986 kicks out MP’s elder leader Mahjoub Aherdane -who in turn creates his own MNP party.There are very few instances of political parties with proven record in partisan, internal democracy, and this opacity in selecting political elites has worked as a deterrent to prevent a lot of Moroccan citizens to be involved with politics.Many political scientists however see in Feb20 demonstrations a revival of youth politics, and would be inclined to foresee -and I tend to agree with this view- an imminent renewal in our political personnel.

There is also another institutional roadblock to the revival of “big party politics”: I argue that Koutla parties, weakened by an Alternance Consensuelle they failed to turn to their advantage, fell back on more traditional, Moul Chkara -local notabilities- ton insure their caucus does not wane. USFP and Istiqlal, both electoral juggernauts tend to draw their typical Political Bosses from rural, traditional constituencies, a trend more acutely observable since 1997, where their elected delegations from Casablanca, Rabat or Agadir steadily decreased to marginal results form November 2011. Weakness in internal democracy, once justified by the struggle Koutla parties had to leader against Makhzen-led rival parties (MP in 1957 as a strong rival to Istiqlal, RNI and UC to Istiqlal and USFP, and more currently PAM as an anti-PJD bulwark)

One would think that parties lacking both internal democracy and a reliable stock of local notabilities would eventually die away; UC, while being out of office at least since 1992, still hangs on and manages to produce a decent caucus with the 2011 elections. And yet, they look like a smaller version of RNI: both share a common history of ‘Born To Rule’ kind of party, and their faith in all-out free-market ideology is undoubted.

What I would like to discuss is a two-steps legislation I believe would change the political landscape in a very short period of time: political finances and multi-party membership. I’d better start with the former.

Multi-party membership

as it is now, the law forbids a citizen to accrue membership:

Article 26

Nul ne peut adhérer à plus d’un parti politique

It is very counter-intuitive. How come one individual could be involved with more than one party? And there goes the ‘Moroccan Exception’: Morocco has a multi-party system not out of an inherent and vibrant pro-democracy stance, but because a large number of political organizations weakens that very democracy – and at times, it was even a way for the Makhzen to extend its hold over political legitimacy.

But what if we consider some kind of formalized relationship between smaller and larger parties of similar political persuasions; a small party has little chances to go beyond a nationwide 6% of popular vote on general elections; they get a seat, or two, possible 5 at best, but not enough to gain some representation on the national ballot, and that hurts larger parties with whom they share similar constituencies. So a deal can be made to help both parties, especially if they share a common history and ideology: the smaller party can ask to join a large party of their choice during ordinary convention. And given the larger party’s acceptance, an ad hoc common convention at the end of which a common document is produced detailing the quotas devoted to the junior partner(s) in terms of platform contribution, leadership slots and even electoral agreements, e.g. what seats should be the partner’s and at what level.

What are the pay-offs for each party then? That’s a contract for sure, and it is best when self-enforced, meaning, that both co-contractors find their benefit in the deal. For junior parties, the benefits are immediate and obvious: niche constituencies at local level with little competition from stronger parties: local community board, perhaps even slots at the regional assemblies (we just have to wait for the Organic Bills that regulate Regional elections) the opportunity to weigh-in nation-wide on policy-making, and finally, better organization and finances.

"A personality problem" (Image: Aujourd'hui Le Maroc)

And if the junior party is happy with the alliance, they might want to merge altogether, no problem. Meanwhile, it is their own valuation for a seat in parliament that will condition the essential motive for the whole thing: do they really want to compete so badly, or are they ready to trade an improbable race for parliament for a surer victory at local level?

The senior party benefits from the ‘alliance’ during general elections: we consider some seats contested during the November 2011 ballot; In Rabat’s both districts, there were 137 competitors for 7 slots. In Casablanca, the same goes: 34 seats attracted 640 candidates. Tangiers, finally, attracted 110 candidates for 5 slots. Mohand Laenser, the Representative for Boulemane, could have carried his n°2 as well, if the MDS didn’t put a good fight in his constituency: the Haraki vote was therefore split, and Laenser’s majority weakened substantially. Larger constituencies typically tend to attract more candidates from all parties, but ironically enough, tend to harm more larger parties – in a sense, PJD’s victory was more out of their competitors’ weaknesses than some sort of popular mandate.

This convoluted argument for a multi party-membership is due to the equally convoluted state of politics, and that goes especially for the Left. The number of political parties with an explicit reference to the Left, Socialism or Progress is now 11 – joined lately, it seems, with the PAM. The same goes for ‘Conservative’ or ‘Rural’ parties. I mean, the sole existence of a dozen of parties -no doubt with such nuanced differences in ideology- only confirms the lack of internal democracy, or a mere issue of egos. The idea is to create some material incentives for smaller parties to come together with larger parties and at the same time spare their leadership some self-pride in the process.

Party Finances

Article 28

Les ressources financières du pari proviennent:

– des cotisations de ses membres;

– des dons, legs et libéralités, en numéraires ou en nature, sans que leur montant ou valeur global (sic) ne puisse dépasser 100,000 dirhams par an et par donateur;

– des revenus liés à ses activités sociales et culturelles;

– du soutien de l’Etat

The need to make sure politics stays clean of any dirty money is to get public finances to step in. Sadly enough, Morocco has an abysmal record on how the State managed money in the political process. Perhaps a shrewder move is to abolish public-funded schemes altogether. Large parties already enjoy big donations besides regular public money, and smaller organizations will eventually force themselves to put their act together once that lifeline is cut – some will have to merge with other parties, others will just disappear – there is no longer money for the smaller leadership to retain followers.

On the other hand, the 100,000 limit is absurd. It really is. La Vie Eco reportedly priced an electoral campaign to 1 Million dirhams. The spending limits on electoral campaign too are ludicrous – especially so when one considers that these limits are not indexed to inflation, these have been imposed by bureaucratic fiat.

Perhaps lawmakers were being protective of the right to constitute a political party by giving a ‘fair and equal chance’ and strict regulation. But the fact is, larger parties already enjoy a substantial advantage. Scrapping such legislation will harm no one, it will only recognize the fact that 100,000 dirhams are not enough to run a party. The same goes for limits on polling too, and both activities go hand in hand: it will take a lot of money to order polling, a business now intimately associated with modern politics.