Moroccan legislative elections: large scale abstention reveals widespread popular defiance

Last Friday, 25th November, the Moroccan dictatorship organised sham elections for its puppet parliament. These legislative elections can only be understood as an attempt at survival on the part of the capitalist monarchy. The regime is desperately in search of a new legitimacy, but it failed miserably.

The Arab spring has not spared Morocco either. Since February 20th [20F] an unrelenting wave of mass demonstrations has struck at the heart of the regime. The 20F movement has become the largest political opposition to authoritarian rule. The regime reacted with a mix of repression and reforms. The reforms, however, are not designed to make the political system more democratic but to stave off a revolution from below. In reality the reforms introduce cosmetic changes to the system without fundamentally changing its dictatorial nature. The constitutional referendum of July 1st and the legislative elections of February 25th are part of the same arsenal of tools designed to divert the revolutionary desire for change into safe “reformist” channels. Power remains in the hands of the King. Parliament is not even expected to rubber stamp the decisions of the monarch.

Pierre Vermeeren, a renowned expert in Moroccan history understands the deeper meaning of the elections: “For the royal palace, the majority of the elites and the partners of Morocco, it is a question of putting an end to the political protests that started on February 20th.” (TF1/LCI, 25th November 2011). But this aim was not achieved.

The 20F movement together with small left parties (PSU, VD, etc.) correctly called for a boycott of these elections. That is why participation in the parliamentary elections becomes an important measure of the level of support for the regime. The boycott campaign of the 20F was not a passive appeal. In many places it was very organised and active. In the city of Tétouan in the North of the country, which together with Tangiers and Al Hoceima have become the new epicentres of the protests, the activists penetrated into the working class neighbourhoods with their campaign. In the four days before the elections from 6pm until 10pm they organised demonstrations and impromptu meetings in those areas calling for the people to boycott the elections and to get organised to struggle for “dignity, freedom and social justice” (See video). “When the main bourgeois parties, the Islamic PJD and Istiqlal, announced its campaign meetings the 20F activists blocked the centre of the city and stopped them” explains one activist.

The week before, massive demonstrations were also held in the centre of towns as you can see here in Tangiers. Note the combative and confident mood of the demonstrators!

Another example comes from the mining areas of Khouribga. Those areas have witnessed fierce demonstrations of unemployed youth demanding jobs of the phosphate mining industry which is enriching the King and his entourage. Most importantly, the youth organised an active boycott of what they describe as a “parody of elections”. In Boulanouar, tens of youth, later supported by hundreds, blocked the entry to the village to the campaign team of the candidate and sitting MP of the Istiqlal party. They prohibited all parties from campaigning in their area and refused to be treated as easy electoral fodder. The next day, in Boujniba, the oldest mining village, something similar happened. Youth barricaded the access to the village and stopped the president of the Khourigba municipal council from campaigning.

Even the most rural of areas, who in the past were bastions of the regime, were reluctant to “play the game” again. See this little documentary made in the remote area of the Atlas.

So, far from being a symptom of political apathy, abstention in this electoral masquerade did not reflect “indifference” or “apoliticism” as some wise commentators have concluded. In a dictatorship, refusing to participate in the circus of the elections is a form of defiance against the regime. It reflects not the low level of understanding of politics but a clear insight into the deceiving mechanics of political power in Morocco. Nepotism, corruption, opacity and “clientelism” are gangrenous growths at all levels of the state apparatus. Real power lies not in parliament but in the hands of the King, his entourage of wealthy advisers and a few hundred bourgeois families. The tentacles of the state bureaucracy are completely at their service. The result of the elections is rigged beforehand by the Ministry of the Interior. All contesting parties, both those already in parliament and those that are not, are royalist parties. This is, they accept to be ruled and governed by the almost absolute monarch. The winning party, in this case the Islamic PJD, reflects a reorganisation of the internal power structure. The PJD is a party co-opted by the state itself. The PJD is a conservative bourgeois party that has been part of “his majesty’s opposition” in parliament’. In this context the level of abstention is an important measure of how far the population has distanced itself from the regime.

The Ministry of Interior announced an improbable figure of 45% voter participation in the elections. This is presented as an increase of 8% compared to the level of the 2007 elections, when a rate of 37 % was registered. This figure is undoubtedly an inflated figure. But let us, for a short moment, accept it as a true reflection of the level of participation.

First of all, this percentage refers to the registered voters. All Moroccan citizens of 18 years of age or older can vote. As voting is not compulsory, you have to register to be able to vote. In 2007 the population older than 18 years was about 19.9 million (according to the latest census carried out by HCP – Haut Commissariat au Plan). Taking into consideration demographic growth the actual figure would be near to 22 million today.

In 2007 15.5 million were registered. This year the Ministry of Interior announced that 13.5 million registered to vote, a decrease of 15%. Thus, whereas in 2007 4 million Moroccans were not registered, this year up to 9.5 million did not register.

If we accept the official level of abstention of 55% of the registered voters it means that of the 13.5 million people registered 7,425,000 did not bother to cast their vote. The 7,425,000 voters who abstained plus the 9.5 million who did not register makes a total of 16,925,000 Moroccans who reject, in one way or another, the political system. Thus we see how only 13% of the population able to vote, actually cast their vote in the ballot box. This is a level of abstention of 87%, hardly a plebiscite for the regime!

The King went on holiday to France a few weeks ago. Conscious of the lack of real support in society he was attempting not be identified with this debacle. This, however, will prove more and more difficult to achieve in the next period. The future of Morocco will be determined not by the manoeuvres in the backrooms of the monarchy, but by the conscious intervention of the masses in the political arena.