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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 August, 2003, 13:14 GMT 14:14 UK
Morocco's Islamist poll concerns
By Sebastian Usher
BBC, Morocco

Moroccans have embarked on the campaign for their local councils elections, to be held on 12 September after being postponed earlier this year.

Voters in last year's legislative elections
The Islamist PJD did well in last years elections

One reason for the delay was the rise of the main Islamic party, the Party of Justice and Development (PJD), in last year's legislative elections when it doubled its number of seats.

There was concern amongst the political elite that Islamism might be gaining an unstoppable momentum in the country but now, after last May's suicide bombings in Casablanca by Islamic extremists, the PJD is on the defensive and is down playing its political ambitions.

The political elite in Morocco, from King Mohammed VI on down, agrees on one thing - 16 May, the night of the Casablanca bombings, changed the political landscape.

Political reform

Even before the attacks, the council elections were being presented as the second stage in the king's much trumpeted reform of the political process.

The first was last September's elections, which were generally perceived as unusually clean and fair.

bomb debris
The Casablanca bombings damaged the PJD's reputation

But the rise of the Islamic party, the PJD, which came third in those elections, did set off alarm bells in some quarters.

Since coming to the throne in 1999, the young king had moved to dismantle the more repressive elements of his father, King Hassan's rule.

After the Islamist success in the elections, there were mutterings that this softer line might risk state security.

Crackdown

The May bombing was seen by some as vindication of those warnings. It provoked a country-wide crackdown on Islamists and the move towards greater openness stalled.

But at the same time, the king has staked his reputation on being a force for change.

King Mohamed VI
The local elections are part of the King's political reforms

So the call ahead of these elections is still for transparency and political accountability.

Some of the more notoriously corrupt candidates have been forced to stand down and there has been much talk of increasing the participation of women and the young.

But the key interest remains the performance of the PJD.

The Casablanca bombings did it a considerable damage, even though it has always condemned violence.

As a result, it has withdrawn from 40% of the council seats it was contesting.

The last thing it wants to do is to summon the spectre of its counterpart in Algeria, the FIS, whose sudden rise triggered years of civil conflict.




SEE ALSO:
Finding a voice in Morocco
14 Jan 03  |  Africa
Morocco's many contradictions
18 Aug 03  |  Africa
Morocco lowers voting age
11 Dec 02  |  Africa
Morocco unveils new coalition
08 Nov 02  |  Africa
Country profile: Morocco
18 Jul 03  |  Country profiles


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