Moroccan Prime Minister Replaced
The King of Morocco replaced Prime Minister Benkirane of the Justice and Development Party (PJD)
following a five-month deadlock. After the moderate Islamist PJD party won the highest proportion of seats in October, they were unable to form a coalition with other parties to rule the government. Under the Moroccan Constitution, no party can win a majority through the multi-party system; thus, a coalition is necessary for a functioning parliament. The new Prime Minister, Saadeddine el-Othmani, is also a member of the PJD party.
In 2011, protests led the King of Morocco to call an early election with new constitutional reforms, which delegated more power to the Prime Minister and forced the King to appoint the Prime Minister only from the leading party. In this election, the PJD won 107 seats, led by the newly-appointed Benkirane as the Prime Minister, and formed a coalition government with other parties. In the October 2016 elections, the PJD party won 125 seats in the 395-seat House of Representatives. However, despite the electoral and administrative reforms, voter turnout in both elections remained below 50 percent. Voters view politicians as unwilling to attack corruption or address the social challenges of the country, such as high unemployment, healthcare, and education.
In the 2016 election, the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM), which is backed by the monarchy and a rival party of the PJD, gained 102 seats. Before 2013, the PJD had been in a coalition with the conservative Istiqlal party, but it later left over economic reform disagreements to be replaced by a more centrist National Rally of Independents (RNI) party. Other liberal parties gained fewer seats, and some Islamist parties that had joined in the 2011 protests boycotted the election over the King’s political control, leaving the PJD to have to make amends with more hesitant, if not hostile, centrist parties.
The PJD’s negotiations with other parties, namely the RNI party and the Popular Movement (MP) party, soon began to stall. Both of these parties are centrist and are seen as supporters of the monarchy. Many view the deadlock as an attempt by the monarchy to delegitimize the PJD in order to gain more concessions from the Islamists to exert more control over the legislative process. The monarchy tries to balance preserving the democratic process and preventing independent movements from gaining control of the legislature.
In November 2016, the MP announced that it would not join the PJD’s coalition, despite having agreed to do so after the election results. A month later, the RNI indicated that it was also unwilling to join the coalition this time due to ideological differences. However, negotiations with the RNI continued.
Beginning in March, the RNI demanded that smaller parties also aligned with the monarch should join the coalition talks. Benkirane refused, as this decision would dilute his own party’s power in favor of the monarch’s allies. On March 20, the King dismissed Benkirane as the Prime Minister of the PJD party, appointing el-Othmani in his place. El-Othmani is viewed as more willing to build a consensus and appease the monarch’s demands.
El-Othmani ended the deadlock on March 26, appeasing the demands of the RNI by creating a wide six-party coalition. The coalition includes the PJD, the RNI, the MP, the Party of Progress and Socialism, and the two parties that Benkirane had been unwilling to incorporate: the Constitutional Union and the Socialist Union of Popular Forces.
The King’s assertion of power over the legislative process is perceived by both Moroccans and political analysts as a reaction to the Islamists’ success in the last election, for the Islamists’ momentum threatens the success of the monarch’s allies. Traditionally, political parties have not been able to mobilize the people, but the PJD’s grassroots movements challenge the royal monopoly on governmental power.