But despite the government's portrayal of the vote as key to Morocco's future, it seemed unlikely to significantly reshape a crowded and fragmented political landscape.  

Political analyst Mohamed Darif said: "These elections won't change anything, the political map has already been drawn."

The country's two main secular parties, the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP) and the centre-right old-guard Istiqlal (Independence) still dominate the political scene.

Disillusionment

They head the coalition government of Prime Minister Driss Jettou but represent a political class seen as corrupt, aloof and with no interest in bridging the chasm between rich and poor.

With entrenched disillusionment with local government and almost all things political, turnout was expected to be low.

Friday's vote is a key test for the
Islamist PDJ party after May's
Casablanca bombings 

And results were not expected until Saturday.

The vote is also being seen as a test of the electorate's support for the only tolerated Islamist party.

Islamist party

The Justice and Development Party (PJD) emerged as the main opposition force in parliamentary elections a year ago.

But that was before 12 bombers killed 33 people in Casablanca in May - an act blamed on Islamists. 

Under apparent government pressure, the PJD has decided to field candidates for barely 20% of the 23,689 seats of local councillors up for grabs.

The elections are the first at local and municipal level since King Muhammad, 40, came to the throne in 1999.

Nearly half the 30 million population is illiterate and five million live under the poverty line.