Morocco’s king has named Saad Eddine El Othmani from Islamist PJD Party as the country’s new prime minister and asked him to form a government, according to a royal statement published by the MAP state news agency on Friday. Othmani served as foreign minister between 2011-2013 and had since served as the head of the PJD’s parliamentary group.
King Mohammed VI announced on Wednesday he would replace Abdelilah Benkirane as prime minister with another member of the PJD in an effort to break a five-month post-election deadlock.
The king took the decision to remove Benkirane “in the absence of signs that suggest an imminent formation” of a government and due to “his concern about overcoming the current blockage” in political negotiations, the royal statement said on Wednesday.
Benkirane had been reappointed after the PJD, which first came to power in 2011, increased its share of the vote in October elections, maintaining its position as the biggest party.
Under Morocco’s election law no party can win an outright majority in the 395-seat parliament, making coalition governments a necessity in a system where the king still holds ultimate power.
But the PJD failed to form a majority despite five months of intense negotiations – the longest time Morocco has been without a government in its recent history.
Benkirane proposed to rebuild his outgoing coalition, an alliance comprising a range of parties including other Islamists, liberals and ex-communists.
However, he faced opposition from Aziz Akhannouch – leader of the National Rally of Independents (RNI) and a billionaire former agriculture minister who critics say is close to the king – and the resulting power struggle quickly led to a political impasse.
Negotiations stalled mostly over the RNI’s insistence on imposing a bloc of four minor parties into the coalition, which would weaken the PJD sway.
It is not clear what difference Othmani’s appointment makes to the PJD’s negotiating position on forming a government.
The PJD is due to host a national council meeting on Saturday to decide its next steps.
On Thursday it issued a statement in support of Benkirane.
“He is not responsible, in any way, for the delay in forming a government,” it said.
The PJD was the first Islamist party to win an election in Morocco and the first to lead a government after Mohammed – whose family has ruled Morocco since the early 1600s – gave up some of his power when thousands took to the streets in peaceful demonstrations inspired by the wave of uprisings across the Arab world.
The party increased its share of the vote in October elections, maintaining its position as the biggest party. But it has met resistance during political negotiations from parties who opponents describe as being close to the palace.
Under constitutional reforms adopted in the North African country in 2011 to quell pro-democracy protests, the prime minister must be appointed from the largest party in parliament.