Morocco: Sham referendum will not satisfy the masses

Statistics can be very revealing at times. If anyone had any doubts about the dictatorial nature of the political regime in Morocco the official “results” of the constitutional referendum surely must have removed them. The Ministry of Interior expects us to believe that nothing less than 98.94% voted Yes, while  amere 1.1 % voted No. Such figures would make even the North Korean regime blush with embarrassment!

Even if one accepts the official account of the level of participation of more than 70%, such a result does not represent reality on the ground. Of course activists in the movement had expected a manipulated result due to massive fraud. But these figures go well beyond even their most pessimistic predictions, so much so that they have now become the subject of mockery.

People were expecting the regime to announce an approval rating of between 60 and 70 percent, so as to give the result a semblance of credibility. But the greatly exaggerated figures they have announced are now turning against the regime. Many examples and denunciations of fraud are circulating on the internet.

The fact that the regime had to exaggerate the results to such an extent shows a clear nervousness on its part. Since the beginning of the year they have felt the ground under their feet shifting. The referendum, especially the real level of participation, which is well below the official 70%, has not reassured them. Most Moroccans, the real living forces of society, voted with their feet and did not particpate in this sham referendum.

And this happened despite the fact that the campaign for a Yes vote had the backing of the King, the Commander of the Faithful, and all the preachers in the mosques who presented it as an act of religious faith and allegiance. During the extremely short 10 day campaign almost the only voices heard on the media were from the unrepresentative but palace-subservient parties and unions. The not so “non-governmental” organisations also joined the chorus.

On the other hand, written instructions from the regime to the media banned access to those who werecalling for a boycott of the referendum, amongst them, one of the biggest unions, the Confédération Démocratique du Travail (CDT) and the 20F youth movement. Within another big union, the UMT, a minority was also calling for a boycot. Small left parties, like the PSU, the PADS and the Voie Démocratique, also called on people not to particpate in this crooked vote. The Morrocan section of the IMT was one of the first groups to come out for a clear boycott [see المغرب: رابطة العمل الشيوعي تدعو إلى مقاطعة التصويت على دستور تكريس الدكتاتورية ].

This time, however, the demonstrations of the 20F movement in the streets were met not so much by state repression but by hired thugs. On different occasions they violently attacked the democratic youth. The pre-referendum period in no way resembled any “democratic spring”.

Of course all the embassies of the Western world, starting with those of France and the United States, have come out to applaud the results as another “step towards democracy”. They are also full of praise for the constitutional changes. The King’s speech two weeks before the referendum outlines the proposed changes. But what do they really involve?

The King is the power

An interesting article published on the online Foreign Policy US think tank analyses the proposed constitutional reforms. The only conclusion one can darw, even from a strictly bourgeois democratic point of view, is that those changes are completely unsatisfactory. This is what they write:

“On Friday June 17, after four months of street protests, Morocco's King Mohammed VI gave a speech outlining a constitutional amendment which would complete ‘the construction of a state based on the rule of law and on democratic institutions.’ The king called on Moroccans to support his proposed constitution in a referendum he scheduled for tomorrow (July 1). Many Western analysts have praised these reforms as a substantive move toward democratic change.

“In fact, the draft constitution does not meet the expectations of the pro-democracy movement which has been calling for the establishment of a parliamentary democracy. Nor does it provide for a real separation of powers. The new constitution enshrines the absolute power of the king, while offering only token changes [our emphasis]. The non-consultative process by which the amendments were created, and the unseemly speed by which they are to be ratified, have infuriated democracy activists.

“In the current system, the king reigns and rules arbitrarily through his appointees and closest advisers, who in turn delegate bits of power to clients or even friends or relatives. This form of government, based on a long political tradition, is embodied in a constitution which allows the state to operate thanks to the goodwill of an executive monarch. The poorly representative government only serves as a front for an authoritarian regime. While consecrating the king as ‘sacred’, the current constitution also makes him the undisputed head of the executive, the senior legislator (the king can rule by decree) and the first judge, disabling the people’s very ability to hold the government accountable. It is not so much the inviolability of the king’s person that most democrats have been castigating, but rather the discretionary prerogatives the monarch enjoys. Moroccans have no way to force accountability on the government, which is the essence of democracy.

“How much power is the monarch willing to relinquish with his proposed reforms? In his speech, the King explained that the constitutional amendment ‘confirms the features and mechanisms of the parliamentary nature of the Moroccan political system, which is essentially based on the principles of the nation's sovereignty.’ He added that the new draft would tie ‘the link between public office and accountability.’ He insisted the new system would have ‘balance, independence and separation of powers’ at its core. Some welcomed the general spirit of a constitutional draft which recognizes Amazigh (Berber) as an official language, highlights the diverse components of the Moroccan identity, promotes gender equality and underlines the right of access to public information.

“A closer look at the document, however, reveals that the proposed draft is nothing more than a semantic face-lift of the previous constitution. Powers remain tied up and under the control of one man: the king [our emphasis].” (Read the whole article, Morocco’s constitutional face lift).

So we are faced with a windowdressing reform which in no way responds to the most moderate of demands of the masses. In the words of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, author of the famous Gattopardo, “Everything changes so that nothing changes.”

What now?

With the constitutional referendum the regime wanted to take back the political initiative after months of a growing movement against the dictatorship. It wanted to give the impression of having responded to the voice of the street. The purpose of these false democratic reforms is to convince the masses that the country does not need a revolution and that the King is leading its people to a new stability and a democratic future. Moreover it is designed to transmit the idea that the 20F movement, the mass movement against the autocracy, has lost its legitimacy and has become redundant.They hope to wind the clock back to the situation before the 20th of February. They are wrong of course. This is only a very temporary respite for the regime. There is no way that the regime will be able to truly satisfy the democratic as well as the social demands of the masses. The regime retains as much absolute political power as before the constitutional changes.

A large layer of the population, starting with the youth, understands this. Other layers will not need ten years to realise this.The capitalist economic interests of the monarchy are as intertwined with the state as before. Recent diversification (selling of stakes in different companies, like in the dairy industry, cooking oil, finances) was aimed at placating discontented sectors of the local bourgeois and neutralising popular criticism that the King was enriching himself on the back of price hikes of basic foodstuffs. Nevertheless, the capitalist power of the King continues to reach very far into all corners of the economic life of the country.

So we can see quite clearly that not very much has changed in Morocco, except for the fundamental fact that the youth has awakened, that the class struggle is on the rise and that the middle classes are starting to move (such as the movement of the young doctors).

The regime has tried to buy off the trade union leaders and, temporarly and only partially, has succeeded in this. It has come at a high cost. In less than one year the public deficit trebled. This is not sustainable in a country suffering a sharp decline in foreign direct investment, the main engine of economic activity.

The 20F movement also stands at a crossroads. Its future and that of the Moroccan revolution lies in its ability to unite the social and economic demands of the poor and working masses for sociali justic and against capitalist exploitation with the demands for radical democratic reform. Within the framework of capitalism, especially within its most decrepid form in Morocco, these aspirations can never be fulfilled. The future of the 20F movement lies in understanding this.

The question now is not how to pressurise the regime into granting concession or reforms. The central political question now is how to overthrow the regime and how to replace it with a genuinly democratic one, where the economy is run not for profit but for the satisfaction of the needs of the majority of the people; in other words replacing capitalism with socialism.