Moroccans began voting on Wednesday morning in pivotal legislative and regional elections amid widespread disillusionment with the political system and an economic crisis deepened by the coronavirus pandemic.
About 18 million people were expected to cast their ballots on Wednesday, the third time since a new constitution was introduced in 2011 in the wake of the February 20th Movement, the local version of the Arab Spring.
Polling stations opened at 08:00 local time (07:00 GMT) and will close at 19:00 (18:00 GMT). The first estimates are expected in the evening.
“All to the polls!”, calls the daily L’Economiste, for which the turnout is the “real issue of today’s elections”. Turnout had plateaued at 43% during the 2016 legislative elections.
Morocco is a constitutional monarchy where the king holds sweeping powers, head of government comes from the party that won the legislative elections. He is appointed by King Mohammed VI to form his executive for a five-year term.
In this kingdom of 36 million inhabitants, decisions and major orientations in strategic sectors remain the prerogative of the monarch.
Sitting Prime Minister Saad Eddine El-Othmani of the Justice and Development Party (PJD) is expected to vote later, but questions loom on whether this is going to be his last as prime minister because of a change in the electoral system as he seeks a third consecutive term as head of government
Voters will choose 395 deputies in the house of representatives and 678 seats in regional councils under a new law that calculates the allocations of seats based on the number of registered voters, rather than the number of those who actually cast a ballot.
Such an electoral system could make it harder for the ruling PJD to remain in power. Though election polls are banned, analysts expect the PJD to lose ground to its more pro-establishment rivals, the National Rally of Independents (RNI) and Authenticity and Modernity (PAM) parties, which define themselves as social democrats.
Mohammed Masbah, president of the Moroccan Institute for Policy Analysis and an associate at Chatham House, said while the change in the electoral system will allow smaller parties to gain access to the parliament, it will pave the way for more division in national and local politics.
“Political parties will find it very difficult to fill coalitions and find consensus when you have a large number of political parties, for example, leading a municipality or a government,” said Masbah.
A battered economy is another key issue the new government will have to face. While the coronavirus pandemic has greatly affected the country that heavily relies on tourism, analysts argue systemic problems need to be addressed.
Masbah said, “Structural problems with the economy linked to high levels of youth unemployment and corruption need to be added to the pandemic,”
Whatever the result, political parties are expected to adopt a charter for a “new model of development” with a “new generation of reforms and projects” in the coming years, the king announced recently. All parties are expected to sign up, regardless of who wins the election.
The plan’s major aims include reducing the country’s wealth gap and doubling per-capita economic output by 2035.
Morocco’s economy is expected to grow 5.8 per cent this year after it contracted by 6.8 per cent last year under the combined effects of the pandemic and drought.
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