Morocco and Democratization

Article excerpt

Byline: Ahmed Charai, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The legislative elections held last Friday in Morocco were a watershed in this country's unbending march toward democracy.

Morocco has for a decade engaged in an increasing process of democratization. Though the state has ceased to interfere in the electoral process, turnout remains very low in urban centers, resulting in a national turnout of barely 37 percent. Those analysts who had hitherto been the harbingers of an Islamist outburst are the same today who put the low voter turnout down to ignorance.

Still, the voter issue is more complex than meets the eye, and hence does not amount to mere sociological factors... rather it is essentially political, involving three fundamental phenomena.

The first relates to the past. For 40 years, Morocco has lived a ferocious fight for legitimacy between the monarchy and the parties born out of the national sovereignty movement. The elections were gerrymandered by the government in favor of parties created from bits and pieces. With the vote not recognized as valid, constituents started to stay away from the polls.

The second relates to the first phenomenon. To overcome the earlier situation, the late Hassan II had invited the then-opposition to take part in the government. Participating for the last 10 years, and partaking in the significant reforms that have occurred, has not brought down the abysmal deficiencies at the social level, thereby creating apathy among the country's constituents.

Lastly, the third phenomenon results from the executive character of the monarchy. The king has demonstrated great dynamism, and the monarchy is the guarantee of the fundamental choices the constituents have, hence diminishing the importance of other governmental institutions in the eyes of those constituents.

Over and above these three phenomena, one can also point out to the swelling numbers of parties - exactly 32 registered parties - with substantially similar programs, causing the competing parties to lose a significant chunk of their credibility.

Does the low turnout reflect a complete lack of interest of Moroccans in democracy? Absolutely not. Never before has the claim to citizenship been as strong as now. Moroccans stand up for their freedom of speech quite virulently ... they speak up daily against the high cost of living, the misuses of authority and any other abuse of office Thousands of associations and nongovernmental organizations have been created in recent years. …