|Ruling parties fear criticism of the polls could fueld voter apathy [AFP]|
Morocco's Marxist Democratic Path party, a vocal opposition group influential with unions, students and rights groups, will boycott upcoming parliamentary polls, which its leader has dismissed as "puppet theatre".
Abdallah El Harif, party chief of Annahj Adimocrati, said: "The elections do not allow in reality the Moroccan people to decide their fate as the institutions generated by such polls, including parliament and government, have no power."
On September 7, voters go to the polls to cast ballots in the second parliamentary elections under King Mohammed, who ascended the throne in 1999 on a wave of popularity after the 38-year, iron-fisted rule of his father.
Mohammed has been pushing for gradual reforms while keeping tight control over the levers of power and on the limits of the democratic process.
Harif said: "All fundamental policies and strategies remain in the hands of the king and his advisers. If you take part in the elections, you must accept to be the executor of policies you had not decided."
Thirty-three political parties and dozens of independent candidates are competing for seats in the 325-member parliament.
Analysts say the election should help revitalise parts of the ruling elite body and energise the political process, though parliament has only limited powers.
Harif said the polls would only entrench the establishment.
"We believe the existing margin of political openness does not benefit the working masses. Only rich elites, landowners and the Makhzen benefit from that situation," Harif said.
The Makhzen, a network of landowners, tribal and religious leaders, and modern bureaucrats and politicians, is the core of the ruling monarchy.
Harif, who was jailed for 17 years for his dissident activity under Hassan II's rule, said Morocco's social and economic problems would worsen in the future without a constitutional reform to trim the king's powers.
"We are now living under a veneer of democracy and a democracy under tight control. A constitutional reform must take place to allow the representatives of the people to implement reforms and policies the country needs," he said.
A constitutional reform must take place to allow the representatives of the people to implement reforms and policies the country needs
Harif's Annahj, which is a legal party, is among the few political groups boycotting the polls.
Annahj has no representation in parliament but it is influential in Socialist circles, as well as with trade unions, on university campuses and with rights groups, mainly because of respect for its leading figures.
Leaders of Annahj were at the forefront of the pro-democracy struggle against authoritarian rule from the 1960s to the 1990s.
Ruling parties fear Annahj's criticism of the polls could feed voter apathy and reduce turnout, which has fallen from 67.4 per cent in 1984 to 51.6 in the last elections in 2002.
"The polls are engineered by the interior ministry as part of a tight control of the political scene to make politics a puppet theatre with the players selected and controlled by the regime which knocks out those who do not accept such a game," Harif said.
The government has vowed a free and fair vote and King Mohammed urged the authorities and politicians to ensure the vote was free of any corruption.