The Mirage of Moroccan Democracy

From far away, the Moroccan election results appear fair, but closer to the surface lies controversy - why did so few people vote? And were those who did vote influenced by lobbying?

The elections, held on September 7, had a surprising outcome for most. The PJD (Party of Justice and Development), a moderate "Islamist" party, had been expected to win, however, Istiqlal overtook them by just five seats. The makhzen and urban elite were pleased with the results, the PJD itself cried foul, but for the most part, the entire process was anti-climactic.

And now - The EU calls the elections a transparent success, the US "a step forward." What that translates to is "we're glad the Islamists didn't win" (I'm sure you all remember the 2006 Palestinian elections). Meanwhile in Morocco, the focus lies more in the issue of voter apathy, and the decrease of women's representation in parliament. Only a few groups have dared call the elections corrupt.

But were they? Unfortunately, since the voting itself went rather smoothly, it's hard to tell. Did members of political parties pay children to run around shouting slogans? Certainly. Were people paid to vote? Perhaps. But how different is that from any other democracy? What's the difference between television commercials and children shouting slogans?

Still, no matter the results, no matter how they were reached, what is truly telling is that little more than a third of the population hit the polls - the fewest in recent history, despite the fact that a significant percentage of the population was given the right to vote this year (18-20 year olds).

The larger question, I suppose, is - does it matter at all? The people elect the parliament, but the king appoints the prime minister, who in turn appoints the cabinet. Morocco's democratic process is hardly democratic at all; a show put on for the West. Had the PJD been elected, would they have managed to achieve any of their goals (which a great deal of the populace was so afraid of?) The King can dissolve parliament at any time and probably would have done just that had he sensed the country leaning a bit too much toward Islamization. This is not Turkey, nor Palestine. Parliament still has a monarch to answer to.

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About Jillian York

Jillian York is a freelance writer who focuses on the MENA region, with an emphasis on Morocco. After graduating with a BA in Sociology from Binghamton University, Jillian volunteered with AmeriCorps before moving to Morocco to teach English for two years. Since 2005, Jillian has maintained The Morocco Report, a blog about Moroccan politics and culture, and currently covers Moroccan and Palestinian blogs for Global Voices Online. She is also the author of a Culture Smart! Morocco, a guide to Moroccan customs and writes for INTHEFRAY Magazine. Jillian is particularly interested in the effort to promote citizen media from countries which are given a negative focus in the Western media.

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