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Wednesday, 25 September, 2002, 21:03 GMT 22:03 UK
Guide to Morocco's legislative elections
Moroccan voters go to the polls on 27 September to vote in general elections.

They are the first since King Mohammed VI came to the throne in 1999 amid local media coverage that spoke of hope for a new era of openness and democracy.

The king has made this election his top priority.

In past elections Moroccans complained of vote-rigging through a combination of local corruption and a high level of interference by the authorities.

Morocco's bicameral parliament
Chamber of Counsellors: upper house
270 elected members
Term: six years

House of Representatives: lower house
325 elected members
Term: five years
Voting system: single ballot paper
King Mohammed recently promised free and transparent elections in what he himself has presented as an effort to change that perception.

A series of measures have also been introduced to persuade voters to go to the polls. These include prison sentences for vote-buying candidates and a drive to ensure that mosques are not used for political purposes during the election campaign.

Other measures include a new proportional representation voting system and a national list reserved for female candidates to ensure that at least 10% of new MPs are women.

The parties' logos have been introduced to replace colour-coded ballot papers.

The new aspects have been introduced after long months of consultations between the authorities and the parties to ensure the transparency of the poll.

One new feature in these elections is that voters will be dealing with electoral lists instead of individual candidates.

The issues

Morocco is keen to appear democratic to the outside world in order to attract much-needed foreign investments, so economic reforms - under IMF and World Bank guidance - have been implemented.

But despite some good progress, and praise from the IMF, unemployment still stands at 30%. Over 120,000 university graduates remain jobless. This is widely seen as one of the biggest challenges for any future government.

To combat corruption, the king has been appointing people he trusts, usually technocrats, as governors to try to curb the influence of the powerful Makhzen, the traditional local authorities who run local affairs.

Islamist concerns

King of Morocco
King Mohammed VI
The rise of Islamic extremism is another big challenge, despite Prime Minister Abderrahmane Youssoufi's denial of concerns that a "so-called" Islamist threat might dominate the elections.

Recent incidents involving members of the "Salafia Jihadia", accused of several acts of murder, possession of firearms and abduction, have shocked a Moroccan society unused to the sort of Islamist violence that has been rife in neighbouring Algeria for a decade.

The tolerated but illegal Islamist Adl wal Ihsane Party (Justice and Charity), led by the charismatic Cheikh Yassine, has called for a boycott of the vote.

Independent pollsters say the abstention rate could be high.

Foreign policy

Internationally, the Western Sahara, or "Moroccan Sahara" for both the government and the people of Morocco, continues to dominate the political agenda.

Morocco believes the much-delayed UN-planned referendum in the Western Sahara would only confirm what Rabat calls the "Moroccan-ness" of this former Spanish colony.

Relations with Algeria remain difficult, dominated by the Western Sahara issue.

There is a danger ties with Spain could deteriorate as - in addition to the fisheries dispute - Morocco claims Spain's North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, and islets under Spanish rule near Morocco's shores.

On 22 September Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Mohamed Benaissa cancelled a visit scheduled for the following day to Spain after a Spanish military helicopter landed on Toura islet, Perejil to Spain.

Main political parties

Twenty-six political parties - a record in Morocco's history - are contesting the election.

There are four main political blocs with similar weight in the political arena.

The left-wing bloc includes:

  • The Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP), led by Prime Minister Abderrahmane Youssoufi
  • The Party for Progress and Socialism (PPS, formerly Communist Party), led by Ismail Alaoui
  • The Leftist Unified Socialist Party (PGSU, formerly Organisation for Popular and Democratic Action, OADP), led by Mohamed Bensaid Ait Idder
  • The Socialist Democratic Party (PSD), led by Aissa Ouardighi

    Blocs' share in 1997 election
    Left-wing bloc: 28%
    Centre-right bloc: 26%
    Berberist bloc: 17%
    Conservative bloc: 17%
    The centre-right bloc, with a religious tendency, comprises:

  • The Istiqlal Party (PI), led by the veteran Abbes El Fassi
  • The moderate Islamist Party of Justice and Development (PJD), led by Abdelkrim Khatib, whose share has quadrupled since the last legislative elections in 1997.

    The Berberist bloc includes:

  • The Popular Movement (MP), led by Mohand Laenser
  • The National Popular Movement (MNP), led by Mahjoubi Aherdane
  • The Social Democratic Movement (MDS), led by Mohamed Archane.

    The conservative bloc is composed of:

  • The National Rally of Independents (RNI), led by Ahmed Osman
  • The Constitutional Union (UC), led by Mohamed Abied.

    The outcome?

    Independent pollsters envisage two possible scenarios: a victory for a coalition between the USFP, the MP and the RNI, or a victory for a coalition between the PI, the RNI and the MP.

    The king is expected to pick a technocrat as prime minister, someone who is not a member of any political party.

    BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

  • See also:

    17 Jul 02 | Country profiles
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