Yet viewed from within, the constitutional reforms passed in July look very different. Under the new constitution, the king loses his “sacred status” and appoints a prime minister from the majority party in parliament. But the king has not loosened his grip on ultimate power, maintaining control over the religious establishment, the military, and all security matters. He can also implement “emergency law” and maintains veto power over all minister appointments. All laws must still be confirmed by the king.
Independent voices from the opposition were not involved in the reform process this summer. The ultimate demands of the February 20 Movement for Change movement were not met. Rather, the king relied on the political parties that have historically supported his monarchy to pass the initial reform.
Indeed, the 98.5 percent approval rate in the July 1 constitutional referendum highlighted how little had changed. If anything, the extraordinary rate reflected the authoritarian rule of the king’s father, Hassan II, more than the democratic reform of the “progressive” king.
Still, Friday’s elections showed signs of progress. Voter turnout was up from 37 percent in the last elections to 45 percent. And the moderate Islamist PJD (Justice and Development Party) – the former opposition party – earned unprecedented success, coming out on top with 107 of the parliament’s 395 seats. These developments suggest real reform may be possible. But there is a long way to go.
Parties played old political games. A pre-electoral alliance of eight ideologically diverse parties, from Islamists to conservatives, is better understood as a vehicle for political ambition than of ideologically driven, vibrant political parties. The counter-alliance prompted many to see the parties as dividing spoils before elections, with little regard for the voters. They were engaged primarily in a quest to be close to the center of power, not a struggle for change.
Citizens were largely disengaged. When the campaign season opened Nov. 12 there was little sign of the upcoming polls. Earlier this month, as I walked Rabat’s brightly decorated streets, crowded with people celebrating the end of Eid, only headlines unveiling party platforms and political intrigues hinted at impending elections.