ELECTIONS IN MOROCCO: Containing Political Islamism with Mathematics

Morocco Parliament
© Shutterstock - JackKPhoto - Rabat, Morocco - January 12, 2021 - beautiful aerial panoramic sunset view of the Moroccan Parliament building

The Uprisings in the Arab World did not lead to radical change in Morocco, as was the case in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. The regime remained intact and its ruling elite was able to preserve power. However, it was a very important year for Moroccan Moderate Islamists (Parti de la Justice et du Dévelopement), as they won elections for the first time in their history taking control of the much-coveted parliamentary majority.

The political system in Morocco is characterized by political pluralism and diversity that caters to a wide range of political players. Consequently, different political parties have led the governments since the independence of Morocco. The strong rise of PJD in 2011 was due to the desire of Moroccans to change the political class. The PJD has since gained a considerable organizational power that ultimately allowed it to be re-elected in 2016, taking control of all the major cities in Morocco. Even Until today, all urban districts are known as PJD strongholds.

The strong progress of Islamists has inevitably reduced the role of other so-called "national" or "historical" political parties. In 2021, this has led to discussions led by Member of Parliament around mechanisms to contain very powerful parties, notably PJD, by making amendments to the parliamentary electoral laws. While some amendments are just formalities, others were controversial, even more so, as all political parties except PJD, support the new legislation.  Despite their large parliamentary size [125 seats out of 395], the moderate Islamists failed in blocking the amendments that were approved by all the other parties,

Prior to each election, the parties meet in a committee with the Ministry of Interior to review and amend - if needed- the organic laws regulating the elections. However, this year’s discussions were unlike any previous ones. Several laws have been amended a few months before the elections, the most important ones being the removal of the list stipulations guaranteeing 30 seats in parliament for the youth, in addition, the national electoral district for women will be replaced by regional electoral districts, to increase representation of women in parliament. But the one amendment that caused controversy was the change of the electoral quotient.

In the past years, the number of parliamentary seats was distributed based on the votes obtained by each party divided by the total number of valid ballots -the denominator-  hence, PJD obtained 125 seats in 2016, by mobilizing almost 1.6 million voters -mainly in big cities - out of a total of 5.8 million Moroccans who voted that year.

However, the new amendment stipulates that the number of seats allocated will be based on the “total number of Moroccans eligible to vote” [those subscribed to electoral lists], and not the number of valid ballots. Thus, the denominator becomes much larger [over 15 million out of 38 million], which will diminish the number of seats that parties can obtain in any city. The prospect of substantive change in the electoral results will most likely happen in the upcoming elections. It will be theoretically impossible for any party to gain more than one seat per constituency. The example illustrated below shows that a party who obtains 40 000 votes in one electoral district could gain just as many seats as a party who obtains 100 votes [table number one]. According to this method and the electoral results of 2016, PJD would lose about a third of its seats [table number two].

District 1: Number of seats 5                                       

Registered votes: 300 000

Confirmed votes: 90 000

Threshold: 3%= 2700

Quotient of 2016= 90 000 (Confirmed votes) / 5 (Number of seats)

Quotient of 2021= 300 000 (Registered votes) / 5 (Number of seats)

table 1

By tweaking the calculation rules, no political party will be mathematically able to exceed 100 seats [less than 25% of the total seats] in parliament, making it very difficult to have a clear winner.

It is important to note that this new method of calculation is unique in its kind. No other country in the world allocates seats based on the number of registered voters. In Morocco, the confirmed voters on the day of the elections were less than 40% of the total registered voters.

The PJD denounces any real democratic regression and claims that the new method is unconstitutional, as it affects the key citizens’ right to have a parliament that represents their true will. The party is questioning the elections itself, arguing that if strong and active parties, which put a lot of effort into campaigns receive the same number of seats as smaller less committed parties, that obtain much fewer votes, then the whole electoral process is flawed and unbalanced. That is why, the top three or four parties will end up with the same number of seats in the districts regardless of the number of votes obtained.

table 2

On the other side, the political parties that voted for this change argue that the new method is more "inclusive". Indeed, it will allow all political actors in the country [even the smallest] to obtain seats in parliament, and to express their views on various issues of public interest. Besides, this change will bolster the presence of the so-called "historical" parties and thereby end the bipolarity created in 2011 between PJD and Parti Authenticité et Modernité (PMA). These two parties have obtained 57.5% of the seats in 2016 parliament. Therefore, we are witnessing a change that will reshuffle the cards, creating a new political map in the next elections.

While the Moroccan political parties seem to have found a unique way of dealing with the ever-increasing support for Islamist parties, they fail to address the real problem. A survey conducted by the Institute for Social and Media Studies, in anticipation of the upcoming 2021 elections, shows that 60% of respondents do not trust the political parties nor their program. Moreover, several studies examined the reasons why citizens especially the youth, are not motivated to vote. The results pointed out that disengagement from the electoral process, and party politics is caused by a lack of trust in the candidates and government institutions. Instead of debating the number of seats or calculation methods, parties should discuss programs, actively engage citizens, and address their needs in times of a global health and economic crisis.

Rania Elghazouli is the Project Coordinator in charge of the political program of Friedrich Naumann Foundation in Rabat. She joined FNF Morocco in March 2019. Rania received her BA in Marketing from the University of Quebec in Montreal - Canada, and then worked as Marketing Manager for 6 years at a Multinational company before moving back to Morocco. She then held a Senior Account Manager position at a Multinational company for 4 years, and joined the Foundation shortly after. Following her strong interest in political affairs, Rania decided to become a member of the liberal party “Mouvement Populaire” in 2019.