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Moderate parties win big in Moroccan elections

September 9, 2021

Preliminary results in Morocco show two moderate parties on course to win almost half the seats in parliament. The largest party until now, which claimed election fraud on polling day, saw its support collapse.

Aziz Akhannouch, president of the National Rally of Independents (RNI), casts his ballot in Agadir on September 8, 2021 as Moroccans vote in parliamentary and local elections
Aziz Akhannouch could head a future government under King Mohammed VIImage: AFP/Getty Images

Two moderate parties on Thursday celebrated victory in Moroccan elections.

The pro-business National Rally of Independents (RNI) and the more progressive Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) won 97 and 82 seats respectively, according to preliminary results, with most of the votes counted.

The Islamist party that headed a ruling coaliltion in the country for the past decade, the Justice and Development Party (PJD), saw its support collapse, from 125 to just 12 seats. However, it had alleged "serious irregularities" amid the voting, accusing its rivals of vote buying.

With final results to be announced on Thursday, the center-right Istqlal party appeared set to claim 78 seats in the 395-seat assembly in the country.

Members of Parliament take part in the election to elect a speaker for the country's parliament at the National Assembly building in Rabat, Morocco
Voters chose to shake up the composition of the Moroccan parliament Image: Jalal Morchidi/AA/picture alliance

Turnout was put at just over 50%, an improvement on the figure from 2016.

Under Morocco's semi-constitutional monarchy, King Mohammed VI will name a prime minister from the party that wins the most seats. It is then incumbent on the chosen candidate to form a cabinet and submit it for the king's approval, with royalty reserving a right to veto key appointments.

Who are the winners?

The RNI went from being a junior member in the previous governing coalition to be the leading party in the new one.

Headed by billionnaire businessman Aziz Akhannouch, the party has less conservative ideas and is thus closer to King Mohammed VI, ending 10 years of Islamist-led government under the PJD.

Created in 1978, it is comprised of businesspeople, technocrats and highly placed civil servants.

The RNI campaign succeeded in wooing voters under the slogan "You deserve better," written in the Moroccan dialect rather than traditional Arabic. 

A citizen is seen at a polling station to cast her vote during the Parliamentary elections in Casablanca, Morocco
Morocco has elected more liberal parties in Wednesday's electionsImage: Jalal Morchidi/AA/picture alliance

Its leader, Akhannouch, was minister for agriculture and fisheries during his time in the government coalition.

According to Forbes, he is worth $2 billion — the second-richest man in the country, after the king. He made his fortune in energy, banking, real estate and tourism.

His wife, Idrisi Akhannouch, is also a powerful businesswoman, having founded and directed the Aksal group which controls 50% of Morocco Mall, one of the biggest shopping center chains in Africa.

PJD concerned about voting 'irregularities'

The PJD had earlier complained of "serious irregularities" during voting. 

"We're very concerned as we watch the progress of the national election. We've seen several irregularities," the party said.

The PJD accused opposition parties, such as the RNI, of buying votes. 

Akhannoush called the attacks by the PJD "an admission of failure." The Interior Minister, Abdelouafi Laftit said voting took place "under normal circumstances" apart from some isolated incidents.

The PJD had governed the country since the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011.

Opinion polls are banned in Morocco, and candidates were unable to carry out traditional campaign activities such as passing out leaflets due to the coronavirus pandemic. This made the results in the country of 37 million people even more surprising.

Many of the policies of the elected Moroccan government are ultimately directed by King Mohammed VI. Criticism of the monarchy is a criminal offense.

Although the Moroccan economy has steadily grown in the past decades, poverty is still widespread in parts of the country.

The Rif Movement in 2016 and 2017, which called for better treatment of ethnic Berbers and improved socioeconomic conditions in underdeveloped areas, was met with police brutality and a crackdown on freedom of speech.

wd/rs (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)