Morocco in Political Deadlock After Ruling Coalition Collapses

Moroccan party Istiqlal has withdrawn from the government over a dispute with the Islamist Justice and Development Party.

al-monitor Morocco's King Mohammed VI prepares to address the nation in Rabat, June 17, 2011. Photo by REUTERS/Maghreb Arab Press.

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coalition government, coalition, morocco

Jun 19, 2013

Although Morocco has been living through an unprecedented government crisis for more than a month, the palace is taking its time addressing it. Where is the kingdom of Mohammed VI heading?

Has the Moroccan political class gotten the message? The country is going through a serious crisis after Istiqlal (Independence Party), the second most-powerful political force in parliament, withdrew from the government. But the king seems to have to have ignored the matter. After returning from a long visit to France, where he had been since May 10, his first public activity was to attend the June 15 school graduation ceremonies at the Royal College, which his son, Crown Prince Moulay Hassan, and his daughter, Lalla Khadija, attend.

The government had been counting on a royal intervention to put an end to the disputes between Istiqlal and the Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD). Didn’t Mohammed VI ask Istiqlal to let his ministers do their work until he returns from Paris?

“The palace seems to be taking a step back from the problems that trouble the government in order to force the politicians to step up to their responsibilities,” said a member of the parliamentary majority, speaking to Al-Monitor. Some observers prefer to focus on the where the crisis started because they think it could have been easily avoided.

Hassan Tarik, a socialist deputy and professor of political science, told Al-Monitor, “What is happening proves that our political class is unable to obey the constitutional changes of July 1, 2011. Istiqlal should not have gotten the king involved in its problems with the PJD.”

It should be recalled that by withdrawing from Abdelilah Benkirane’s government on May 11, Istiqlal invoked Article 42 of the Constitution, according to which the king would act as arbiter. According to analysts, the constitutional articles that provide for the dissolution of parliament and early elections should have been invoked instead.

Younes Dafkir, a policy analyst at several Moroccan and international media outlets, told Al-Monitor, “What happened was the ultimate absurdity. Early elections would be politically and financially costly. In addition, no party is able, in the current configuration, to achieve a majority.” Dakfir said that the entire political class, not just the PJD, is pushing Morocco toward a crisis.

Speaking to Al-Monitor, a member of the opposition criticized the PJD by saying, “When the prime minister says that he is pleased to have the confidence of the king, he is in effect forgetting the millions of Moroccans who voted for his party and brought him to power.”

But Istiqlal did not budge. It still insists on accelerating the pace of change and reshuffling the cabinet in a way that would give the party more ministries. “With 61 MPs, we only have six ministries, while a small bloc like the Party of Progress and Socialism has three ministries for only 18 MPs. This is unusual,” Istiqlal MP Abdelkader El Kihel told Al-Monitor.

Until now, both parties have been engaged in a merciless media and campaign battle. Hamid Chabat, Istiqlal’s secretary-general, is crisscrossing the country to mobilize his partisans and explain his party’s position.

The Islamists never miss an opportunity to criticize their rivals. On June 14, at a conference in one of the palaces in Rabat, head of parliament Karim Ghellab of Istiqlal asked his interlocutor to “be polite” and to stop interrupting. The next day, the Islamists demanded an apology. Aside from that incident, the debate has gotten so heated that relations between the two sides seem irreparable.

During this absurd period in Moroccan history after the Arab Spring, the debate between two sides is delighting the Arabic-language press and news sites. “I admit it. When we posted the video showing Chabat asking the prime minister to go see a marabout [religious scholar] for treatment, we were certain that we would get a record audience,” the director of an Arabic-language news site told Al-Monitor.

Morocco has been experiencing absurd politics for more than a month. But how long will that continue? According to government sources, there is a mediation effort to bring Istiqlal and the Islamists together. One source told Al-Monitor, “The interior minister [Popular Movement] will try to help the two parties overcome this phase of tension.” The mediation effort is being encouraged by the palace, but from afar.

Dakfir noted, “It is time to end this situation. We went from a governmental crisis to a parliamentary crisis.” He then added, “The stakes are higher than the petty calculations of political parties. ... Today we are living in an economic crisis that is unprecedented since the 1980s and we have large legislative projects ahead.” Those legislative projects are laws that must be passed to be in line with the new Constitution.

First there are a set of laws governing the municipal elections originally set for late 2012. Also, new institutions need to be restructured, such as the second chamber of parliament (the Senate), the highest judicial body and the security council, to name a few. Meanwhile, no cease-fire is expected between Istiqlal and the PJD.

Mohammed Boudarham is a senior Moroccan journalist with TelQuel based in Casablanca.

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