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Africa

Moroccans vote as elections pit Islamists against liberals

Moroccans are heading to the polls to vote for a new parliament, five years after an Islamist-led government came to power. While liberals hope to reverse religious reforms, real power still rests with the king.

Some 16 million Moroccans are eligible to vote in Friday's elections, with 30 parties competing for places in the second elections since constitutional reform.

Moroccan Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane's ruling Justice and Development Party (PJD) swept to victory in 2011, after King Mohammed VI agreed to certain concessions at the time of the Arab Spring.

A change to the constitution transferred some of the monarch's powers to the parliament, and the PJD says a second term would allow it to push ahead with social and economic reforms.

Benkirane has trumpeted the PJD's economic reforms - having lowered the budget deficit - and its popular anti-corruption stance in a bid to boost his moderate Islamist party's showing in parliament. 

However, the liberal opposition Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) has channeled significant resources into a campaign that lambasts the PJD's economic record as "catastrophic."

It also accuses Benkirane of harboring a hardline religious agenda and points at a series of scandals including a drugs bust and a land-grab deal.

Complex political groupings

Among other things, the PAM wants to legalize cannabis and bring more women into parliament. However, opponents claim the party is backed by a monarchy that wants to undermine the PJD's power.

Both parties are very much minorities in the outgoing parliament - PAM not even being the second largest party and leading a coalition of wildly varying political outlooks.

The PJD also heads a diverse political grouping, including communists, liberals and conservatives.

A number of parties have fielded ultra-conservative Salafists, indicating that hardline Islamists are playing an increasing role in Moroccan politics.

rc/bw (AFP, Reuters)