Morocco’s ruling party suffers crushing defeat to liberal rivals

Justice and Development Party wins only 12 seats in 395-member parliament while National Rally of Independents (NRI) wins 97 seats.

Turnout in Wednesday’s parliamentary election was just over 50 percent, higher than in 2016 after authorities combined it with local elections that traditionally draw better participation [Abdelhak Balhaki/Reuters]

Morocco’s long-ruling party has suffered a crushing defeat to liberal rivals in parliamentary elections, according to provisional results announced by the interior minister.

The Justice and Development Party (PJD) saw its support collapse from 125 seats to just 12, far behind its main liberal opponents, the National Rally of Independents (NRI) and the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM), and the centre-right Istiqlal Party (PI). The results were announced early on Thursday.

At the NRI headquarters, celebrations erupted when it was announced by election officials that the party won at least 97 seats, so far the highest among the parties that contested the polls.

PAM ranked second with 82 seats closely followed by PI with 78.

Turnout in Wednesday’s parliamentary election was just over 50 percent, higher than in 2016.

New voting rules were expected to make it harder for bigger parties to win as many seats as before, something analysts said could cost the moderate PJD, which has been the biggest party in the past two parliaments.

Morocco is officially a constitutional monarchy but the king holds sweeping powers. He picks the prime minister from the party that wins the most seats in the 395-member parliament and appoints key ministers.

The palace also sets the economic agenda for the North African country of 37 million people and has commissioned a development model that the new government is being asked to implement.

The monarchy’s dominant role means political parties espouse similar platforms focusing on education, health, employment, and social welfare.

[Translation: Activists of the National Rally of Independents celebrate the party’s lead in the results with 97 seats after 96 percent of the votes were counted.]

“Why should I vote? I do not expect voting to improve my situation because politicians care only about themselves,” said a worker at a hotel in Rabat who said his name was Khalid.

“I voted for a young man from a party that offers realistic promises to develop this country,” a pensioner, who gave his name as Ibrahim, said as he was leaving a polling station in Rabat.

Despite having been the largest party since 2011, the PJD has failed to stop laws it opposes, including one to bolster the French language in education and another to allow cannabis for medical use.

The new voting rules, seen by PJD leaders as having been introduced specifically to target their majority share, change the way seats are allocated.

In a statement on Wednesday, the PJD accused rivals of electoral violations including buying votes, without providing any details.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies