Morocco reforms to cut monarch’s powers

King Mohammed VI proposes constitutional changes that will whittle down his powers, but keep his role as power-broker.

Morocco’s king has announced a series of proposed changes to the country’s constitution, including amendments that would strip him of some of his political powers.

The changes, announced by King Mohammed VI in a live address to the nation on Friday, will be put to a referendum on July 1.

“We have managed to develop a new democratic constitutional charter,” the king said, adding that the constitution “enshrines a citizenship-based monarchy”.

The proposed amendments would provide for the strengthening of the authority of the country’s prime minister and parliament.

The prime minister would become the “president of the government”, and would be able to appoint government officials – an authority previously held only by the king.

The new “president of the government” would also be able to dissolve parliament, the king announced, another role previously accorded only to Mohammed VI.

The new constitution ensures the prime minister is selected from the party that received the most votes in election, rather than just chosen by the king.

The reforms also strengthen parliament, allowing it to launch investigations into officials with the support of just one-fifth of its members or to begin a censure motion against a minister with the backing of a third, rather than needing the unanimous approval demanded by the current constitution.

The judiciary, which has long been criticised for lacking independence, would be governed by a supreme council composed of judges and the head of the national human rights council. The justice minister would not be on the council.

“We encourage a parliamentary authority that is ready to make sure that parliament makes final legislative decisions,” the king said. “This parliament has the ability to question any official in the country.”

However, the king would remain a key power-broker in the security, military and religious fields.

The king will continue to chair two key councils – the Council of Ministers and the Supreme Security Council – which make security policy. The prime minister can chair these councils, but only using an agenda set by the king.

‘Defusing public anger’

Al Jazeera speaks to Ahmed Benchemsi, a Moroccan journalist, about the proposed reforms in Morocco.

Nabila Ramdani, a writer and analyst on North African issues, told Al Jazeera that the address was an attempt by the king to defuse popular anger in the country.

“There are bleak socio-economic conditions in Morocco, as well as a lack of fundamental human rights, and he is trying to avoid an expression of the anger we have seen on the streets of many Arab countries,” she said.

“There is also a gap between how the world views Morocco, and the largely dismissed internal problems of illiteracy, corruption, and unemployment.”

The king’s speech comes in the wake of nationwide pro-reform demonstrations that began in February, inspired by other popular uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East.

“His powers have been reduced significantly in the sense that he is only the supreme leader of the armed forces and the commander of the faithful,” Lahcen Hadad, a member of the country’s governing coalition, told Al Jazeera.

“Most of the executive powers and judiciary powers are given to other bodies so that is an important change – the king has accepted to share the power,” he said.

But he said there were no groundbreaking changes included in the speech. “I think that if you read the actual constitution and what he has announced now, there were no revolutionary reforms that he is announcing.”

Mixed reactions

Immediately after the speech ended, cars flying Moroccan flags drove through the streets of the capital, Rabat, honking their horns, and young people marched along the wide boulevards banging drums and cheering.

Most of participants in the march seemed to applaud the king’s speech.

After the speech ended, cars flying Moroccan flags drove through the streets of the capital [AFP]

“It elevates the constitution and lets the king pull back so the people and the government can rule,” said Rafai Touhami, a 60-year-old clutching a sheaf of newspapers standing outside a cafe.

“The king will always be there, though, since the political parties aren’t ready to rule,” he added, reflecting popular distrust of the politicians in favour of the king.

Mbarka Bouaida, a member of parliament from Casablanca, told The Associated Press new agency that she saw the new constitution as an important step in opening up the political system.

She cited the new document’s clear commitment to human rights, gender equality and freedom of worship as important steps.

“I think it’s progressive. Probably we will need another constitution in 10 or 15 years, but we must go through this one first and give time for the political parties to be strengthened,” she said, citing weak political parties as a problem in the system.

“It depends on the way we will apply it,” added Bouaida, who is a member of the National Rally for Independents, which is part of the governing coalition. “The real value-added of this constitution is that we are institutionalizing the politics.”

Activists from the pro-democracy February 20 movement, however, dismissed many of the changes, describing them as cosmetic.

“Before we had an absolute monarch, now we have an absolute monarch that is a pope as well,” said Elaabadila Chbihna, an activist with the February 20 movement that has been carrying out weekly pro-democracy marches around the country.

Several activists watching the speech in an apartment in downtown Rabat scoffed at many of the king’s proposals and afterward described the new constitution as being just as bad as the old one.

“He just spoke about the good elements in the constitution and then passed over the controversial ones,” said Chbihna who had seen a leaked draft of the new constitution, which has been expanded from 108 articles to 180. He maintained that the king still held all the reins of power.

According to Hicham Ben Abdallah El Alaoui, the king’s cousin and a researcher at Stanford University, the reforms follow the same pattern as previous ones, with the king dictating the terms to docile political parties.

“This scenario of a mock discussion among the same players as always, and a happy ending seems a foregone conclusion,” he wrote in the French daily Liberation. “Constitutional amendments that are ‘good enough’ will come out and be approved by referendum and the international community. This will give the regime some credibility for reform so that it can dismiss the demonstrators in the street as ‘undemocratic.'”

Morocco has long had a parliamentary system with dozens of parties, but they remain weak and many are beholden to the king and his advisers.

While the king himself remains popular, there is deep dissatisfaction over the government and the advisers around the monarchy whom are believed to be corrupt and rapacious.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies