Rabat, Morocco – Moroccans head to the polls on October 7 for the kingdom’s 10th parliamentary elections since independence in 1956, to define a new political map of the North African country.
Around 16 million Moroccans of the country’s 34 million are registered to vote.
Candidates from 30 parties will compete to win seats in the 395-member Chamber of Representatives, the lower house of parliament.
Campaigning began on September 25.
The main battle will be hotly contested between the ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) and opposition Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM).
The Istiqlal (Independence) Party, the oldest in the country founded in 1944, is also projected to do well in this election.
The PJD, which won the parliamentary elections in 2011 after a turbulent period that saw many of Morocco’s neighbours shaken by the Arab Spring, lost to the PAM in municipal elections in 2015.
So what’s the set-up?
Morocco’s parliament is made up of two directly elected chambers: the 395-member House of Representatives (the lower house) and the 270-member House of Advisers (the upper house).
On October 7, voters from Morocco’s 95 electoral districts will elect members to serve five-year term in the House of Representatives.
Out of 395 members, 305 are elected in multi-seat constituencies from electoral lists put together by the parties, while 60 seats of the remaining 90 are reserved for a national list of women and the rest 30 seats are at grab by candidates under the age of 35.
Will voters turn out?
Voter turnout is generally poor. On the whole, about 50 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots both in local (municipal and regional polls) and national elections (parliament).
Voter turnout in the 2015 local elections was 53.67 percent, up from approximately 45 percent in the 2011 parliamentary vote.
Turnout in next October elections will be closely watched for an indication of people’s trust in the country’s politicians and parties, but projections stipulate that a certain amount of voter apathy is expected this time too.
And who are they voting for?
The multi-party system in the kingdom makes it impossible for any political party to win an absolute majority, forcing any winning party to work with other parties to form a coalition government.
At least 30 political parties are taking part in the upcoming elections, but only six major parties do enjoy strong electoral base.
Those six major parties are usually invited to form coalition governments, while some prefer to remain in the opposition.
Those parties are:
Justice and Development Party
Authenticity and Modernity Party
Istiqlal Party (IP)
Popular Movement (MP)
Party of Progress and Socialism (PPS)
National Rally of Independents (RNI)
Does all this matter? Isn’t the king in charge?
He is. Morocco is a constitutional monarchy and the king has ultimate authority. King Mohammed VI, Morocco’s monarch, came to power in 1999, after the death of his father.
The king chairs the Supreme Council of the Judiciary, the National Security Council, and the Council of Ministers, which must approve all legislations. He is also the commander of the faithful, adding religious authority to his political and security ones.
The country’s new constitution, which was approved in a referendum in 2011, however, introduced amendments that stripped the king of some of his political powers.
The amendments strengthened the authority of the country’s prime minister, allowing him/her to appoint government officials and dissolve parliament – authorities previously held only by the king.
The new constitution also ensures that the prime minister is selected from the party that received the most votes in election, rather than the king naming whomever he pleases.
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.
Does social media have any impact on elections?
New media has become an integral part of the political landscape in Morocco as it helped internet-assisted political communications to boom in the aftermath of the 2011 Arab Spring, which challenged the balance of power in domestic politics in different Arab countries.
Many government officials and political parties are now positive about using social media too as a channel to bridge the communication gap with citizens.
Social media platforms have become the prime space for Moroccans to discuss their daily issues and to assess the government and parliament works.
According to CMAIS and BoldData, two Moroccan agencies specialising in information processing, Facebook is the social media network with the highest market penetration in Morocco with a total of 8 million active users out of 16 million Internet users.
Are the elections fair?
Critics say there is no guarantee of transparency in the elections organised by Morocco’s Ministry of the Interior.
Despite some irregularities noted by independent observers, such as buying votes, the voting process is generally carried out close to international standards.
Is there anything else I should know about Morocco?
Bordered on the east by Algeria and on the south by Mauritania [including the disputed Western Sahara region], Morocco has a population of 34 million, with Arabs constituting 70 percent and Berbers making up most of the rest.
Sunni Muslims account for 90 percent of the population, but the kingdom also has small Christian and Jewish minorities.
The main official language is Arabic. Berber language, which is spoken widely in the north and the south has been granted the status of official language by the 2011 constitution.
The law that regulates the Berber language is still under debate in the parliament. Many Moroccans speak French or Spanish as a second or third language.
Morocco became an independent sovereign state in 1956, following joint declarations made with France and Spain.
Mohammed Ben Youssef, the Sultan of Morocco, adopted the title of King Mohammed V, and on his death in 1961, his son succeeded him as King Hassan II and became prime minister.