The Moorish Wanderer

Moroccan Elections for the Clueless Vol.2

Why is it no political party can “rule” by itself? In other terms, how come we always need a coalition (sometimes very heterogeneous) to form a government, even with the Alternance Consensuelle?

To begin with, this has marginally little to do with the number of political parties, in fact, a “weak coalition” setting is multifarious, as it ranges from political gerrymandering to ballot system, from weak root activism to the existence of powerful local notabilities, “Moul Chkaras”. And when the administration meddles with elections for some 30 years, nasty tactics do not disappear by themselves.

Gerrymandering: Opposition parties have always denounced constituency boundaries because many of those reduce their chances to carry seats. The most recent example is the 2007 Elections, where PJD caucus carried 500,000 votes, some 100,000 more than Istiqlal, but the latter has got 46 seats, some 6 more than PJD. Now, this can mean two things: PJD-led districts have delivered higher majorities, or constituencies where PJD was neck-and-neck with competitors (most famously, the Prime Minister’s district, Larache) boundaries over such and such borough in such and such city can be a deciding factor, since most PJD seats represent urban districts.

Gerrymandering, as denounced by many opposition parties over the years, is not the only factor preventing those political organizations -past and present- from what they have considered their right to move into office; indeed, politics of elections in Morocco is hardly a zero-sum game, even though political parties are convinced it is so. While it is true some districts have been allotted with fewer openings for seats, the administrative boundaries do encompass these districts, and administrative provinces have been designed with some other considerations in mind, considerations that rise above petty short-term politics. Security issues, and the need to control rural populations have been more urgent and important to that effect. The traditional dividing line between Useful Morocco vs Useless Morocco was not born out of constituencies’ boundaries.

A straightforward illustration of discrepancies between popular votes and caucus size is to compute the number of constituents per carried seats: the lower the ratio, the more favoured a political party was, relative to the carried constituencies: assuming two parties got similar number of votes, one will carry more seats than the other, because the former has a lower electability ratio than the latter.

Average ratio was, throughout, between 33,000 and 47,000 voters/seat

Many of my off-line friends and acquaintances from Rabat or Casablanca showed a great deal of sympathy towards PSU, and would my party have chosen to contest these elections, their votes would have been cast in favour of PSU or Left-Alliance candidates. It’s all very commendable and laudable (from my perspective anyway) but in these specific constituencies, it is very hard, almost impossible to carry more than one seat; first because competition is fierce among ideologically similar parties, the electability ratio is way higher than the national mean, and it requires a lot more than just a few dozen additional votes to make a difference. In that respect, the boycott option spared PSU-AGD candidates the painful and costly ordeal of campaigning in highly competitive districts.

In Casablanca, a candidate needs to gather around 63,000 votes to get elected. In Rabat city, the number goes as high as 57,000. This explains partly why many members of the Left-Alliance leaned in favour  of boycotting; for it is a suicide mission to go campaign for votes in large cities; true, there are more seats out there to take (Casablanca and Rabat urban rings gather 48 seats) but it is a costly and hazardous endeavour not every candidate can undertake.

Moroccan Elections for the Clueless Vol.1

From today till November 25th, I will try to post daily facts about elections in Morocco. This is my own contribution to the ongoing debate, and since my party isn’t going to the country, I suppose I am more at liberty in discussing elections in a more dispassionate fashion.

... and only two socialist PMs: one was pushed, the other failed to live up to expectations

Why do we need these representatives in Parliament House? The new constitution theoretically sets us in a different kind of constitutional monarchy: under 1996 Constitution, the Monarch was not under obligation to appoint a partisan Prime Minister, just the same in earlier versions:

1962 Constitution  and following on Prime Minister appointment:

Article 24: Le Roi nomme le premier ministre et les ministres. Il met fin à leurs fonctions, soit à son initiative, soit du fait de leur démission individuelle ou collective.

Article 65: Le gouvernement est responsable devant le roi et devant la Chambre des représentants.

1970 Constitution:

Article 24: Le Roi nomme le premier ministre et les ministres. Il met fin à leurs fonctions, soit à son initiative, soit du fait de leur démission.

Article 59: Le gouvernement est responsable devant le roi et devant la Chambre des représentants.

1972 Constitution:

Article 24: Le Roi nomme le premier ministre et les ministres.

Il met fin à leurs fonctions, soit à son initiative, soit du fait de leur démission.

Article 59: Le gouvernement est responsable devant le roi et devant la Chambre des représentants.

1992 Constitution:

Article 24: Le Roi nomme le premier ministre. Sur proposition du Premier ministre, Il nomme les autres membres du gouvernement.

Il peut mettre fin à leurs fonctions.

Il met fin aux fonctions du Gouvernement, soit à son initiative, soit du fait de la démission du Gouvernement.

Article 59: Le gouvernement est responsable devant le roi et devant la Chambre des représentants.

1996 Constitution:

Article 24: Le Roi nomme le premier ministre. Sur proposition du premier ministre, Il nomme les autres membres du Gouvernement.

Il peut mettre fin à leurs fonctions.

Il met fin aux fonctions du Gouvernement, soit à son initiative, soit du fait de la démission du Gouvernement.

2011 Constitution

Article 47: Le Roi nomme le Chef du Gouvernement au sein du parti politique arrivé en tête des élections des membres de la Chambre des Représentants, et au vu de leurs résultats.

Sur proposition du Chef du Gouvernement, Il nomme les membres du gouvernement.

and when it comes to instances, we have had a plethora of Prime Minister ever since 1955: of all 15 Prime Ministers (leading 26 Governments) only seven were partisan politicians, two were monarchs and the rest were technocrats overseeing transitions or standing for day-to-day politics when some major political deal falls short. And until this election, the Prime Minister had very little legitimacy on and from the benches, including both partisan politicians of the so-called Alternance Consensuelle.

The assumption behind the position of Prime Minister is that some kind of parliamentary caucus is supporting his job (as yet, no woman has been appointed to the position) as in passing the bills he needs to enact, most importantly the budget bill. Throughout the years, parliamentary majorities were there to keep government business out of trouble, the Censure Motion for instance. As a matter of fact, the constitution as always been very ambiguous on the Bicephalous legitimacy the Prime Minister has had to manage up to now: first from the Monarch, who appoints him to form a government in his name, and by popular vote, and that’s where parliamentary majority comes in, and that is pretty much where comparison with genuine parliamentary monarchies, for it is a well-known fact majorities in the house have always been a tricky business, and is most likely to remain so with the new government, although the horse-trading is theoretically supposed to move from mere petty politics to genuine negotiations to insure workable majorities.

Dr Benhima (1967-1969) later on Interior Minister, famously stated: "General Oufkir did not commit suicide"

Prime Ministers’ personalities evolved throughout the years: there were amenable ones, amenable, that is, to opposition and pro-regime parties, and these have been quite useful in times of political strain for instance. And many of these Prime Ministers, supposedly leaders of their governments, often returned to duties at junior levels: Dr Mohamed Benhima, a Prime Minister between 1967 and 1969, returned as State Minister for Agriculture and Agrarian reform in 1970, then as Interior Minister between 1972 and 1973. Another instance of cabinet demotion (so to speak) Ahmed Laraki, Prime Minister between 1969 and 1971, returned as Foreign Affairs minister in 1974-1975. The position of Prime Minister did not come with significant powers, especially when the office holder has to deal with a boss like Hassan II: Ahmed Osman -a former classmate of his and Borther-in-Law- was a notorious Yes-man, as Stephen Hughes and Ignace Dalle reported:

He seldom expressed an opinion of his own, and the only time he said “no” to the King was when he was asked whether he had refrained from using painkillers” (I.Dalle – Les Trois Rois p.394)

So Strong-willed Prime Ministers were actually rare: setting aside the Royals, those who actually had enough charisma to stand up and pursue their own political agenda were both Left-leaning PMs, Abdellah Ibrahim (whose tenure came brutally to an end thanks to then-crown Prince My Hassan) and Abderrahmane Youssoufi (although his legacy has followed a crash-and-burn trajectory very early on) That of course, remains my personal assessment, and I would be happy to discuss the fascinating topic of “who was the best Prime Minister Morocco ever had?”.

The bottom line is, the Prime Ministerial office has been that of an anonymous underling, with little or no margin for manoeuvre, and sense of initiative was certainly not a prerequisite of the job. Is it likely to change with the next election? I submit it is very unlikely. Next piece might deal with some speculation over the next Prime Minister, but so far, party leaders have all pledged their refusal to express any dissent vis-à-vis the Royal will. And that, I believe is not the present constitution’s fault: we have had over the years, a perverse mechanism, by which competent elements are set aside in favour of Yes-men and obedient characters; Of course, nothing is likely to abruptly change, unless – and there comes the backbone of my own views on constitutional reforms- the constitutional framework allocates important powers to the Head of Government, so as first to stimulate political appetites, trigger competition for the fittest. And because there will be no bail-out, political parties would be forced to cast their incompetent elements in favour of others better prepared for actual government. And to do so also requires a strong parliament, with enough prerogatives to nominate and check on a government upon which they bestow genuine confidence.

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.

Wandering Thoughts Vol.1

Posted in Flash News, Read & Heard, The Wanderer by Zouhair ABH on October 3, 2010

There’s a piece of advice I am resolute in following. After a couple of drinks, a friend advised me to write some lighter pieces because the others, while of high standards (and I am very thankful of them to think so) attract very few readers. Although I agree wholeheartedly, I feel it is very underrated (in terms of number of readers I mean) so there we are: I’ll be posting some short mood pieces as it were. But then again, one does not write pieces just for the vanity of being read by large numbers, does one?

What is to discuss a Sunday night? A dreadful time indeed, second only to Monday morning. What’s to discuss indeed? the current news in Morocco? I don’t want to. Not that there is nothing to discuss, but because I don’t want to be depressed again by a picture that is actually as bleak as one makes out. Presumably a violent death in a police station is dramatic, but even with strident protests and cyber-demonstration, it won’t change much things. The present regime (to which some deny the name of Makhzen) knows perfectly that the Blogosphere (the well-known Blogoma), the human rights activists and their supporters are but a little lot, or rather, a disorganized and ill-coordinated set of groups. For many years, I have been an admirer of the Gramscian concept of Organic Intellectual, and I did my best to fit in, but then again one feels let down, depressed and with a growing sense of  disaffection from front-line politics, and ultimately to an Ivory-tower kind of meditation. An intellectual weakness I must confess. but very cozy if I might add.

Oh, it is getting boring again, so let us discuss something I promised a couple of lines above. I am currently (re)watching “House Of Cards” with great delight. I obviously got a thing for British political drama (and comedy too) because of a number of factors: back in prep school, it was a good way to entertain oneself while enjoying the benefit of capturing valuable knowledge: to learn some advanced vocabulary as well as some rudiments of British (and American) political history.


Francis Urquhart, a modern version of Richard III


For the benefit of those who did not watch the 4-parts TV drama produced in 1990, I shall briefly discuss a TV drama “House Of Cards”. So what is so specific about this particular TV drama? I still am waiting for the opportunity to read the novel, but I have to say, the late Ian Richardson‘s performance had certainly something to do with it. The story is about the Conservative Chief Whip Francis Urquhart, who, by means of intrigue, conspiracy and murder, makes his way to the top, and once Prime Minister, disperses mercilessly any attempt of resistance to his schemes. A ruthless character indeed that negates everything that is noble about politics (if there was anything about it) yet is quite attractive in a unique fashion. He is indeed some modern-age version of Richard III (save for the hump and the royal kinship) and he plays with it. In facts, the whole thing is presented as a play, a Brechtian play if I may say so, as the central character allows himself to associate the viewers to his mischiefs, as he maliciously puts it. The viewer sometimes swings to voyeurism when they are witnesses to the plotting schemes, making no doubt on how dirty politics is. Perhaps that is a source of fascination. His sophisticated quotes are a killer too. ironically, Urquhart has a superb grasp of Shakespearian repertoire, and some of his lines fit entirely the moment they are spoken. When he strikes the final blow to do away with his predecessor -while making him, his cabinet and the whole media in the process, believe that he is his staunchest supporter-, he epitomizes so: “After life’s fitful fever he sleeps well. Treason has done his worst. Nor steel nor poison, malice domestic, foreign levy, nothing can touch him further“. He bears a very Olympian stand that actually contrasts with his tactics, though it remains within the boundaries of conservative tradition of open ruthlessness when it comes to leadership (It abated a bit in the present times, but just think of Edward Heath or Margaret Thatcher). An Edwardian figure surely, but he can be quite manipulative when it comes to extra-marital (though with his wife’s consent and later on, reciprocate behaviour) affairs that usually end up with the death of the ripe young moth, burnt by his implacable fire. A very complex figure indeed, that does not inspire sympathy but rather repulsion. Who could one approve of him? But at the same time such character eventually forces one admiration. Does it have to do with the fact that everyone of us was thought that good always triumphs?

There is, in my opinion, an unhealthy attractiveness to the dark side of things, and politics is no exception, especially when it is dramatized (in TV or in books). Perhaps in politics, that would be a way to reassure oneself that politicians are no better than the common people, in the sense that they are subject to the same passions (ambition or lust for one) and are tempted to bypass the rules too, just like anyone determined enough to achieve whatever they are looking after, regardless of conventional constraints.