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Marruecos

Islamists at risk of losing electoral power in Morocco

The elections on 8 September have the particularity of bringing together, for the first time, legislative, municipal and regional elections on a single day
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AFP/FADEL SENNA  -   Moroccan Prime Minister and leader of the PJD Saad Eddine El Othmani

The Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD), which heads Morocco's current government and has been the most voted party in the last decade, is at a low ebb. Several experts predict that its leadership will suffer a setback in the 8 September elections, whose campaign kicks off on Thursday.

Will the PJD be able to win a third term in office or has it lost its lustre? This is one of the questions that observers are asking about a party that, in the heat of the Arab Spring, won the 2011 legislative elections for the first time in its history, in 2016 surprised by improving its results with 125 seats out of the 395 in the House of Representatives (lower), and in 2015 made history by leading the mayoralties of the country's main cities.

The elections on 8 September have the particularity of bringing together, for the first time, the legislative, municipal and regional elections on a single day (with the intention of rationalising expenses), in addition to a context marked by daily records of deaths and coronavirus infections recorded in recent weeks in the Maghreb country.

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The PJD hopes to repeat its previous successes, but experts believe that the Islamists are facing a combination of misfortunes ahead of the next elections.

Internal and external factors of weakness

The Islamist party was dealt a blow in the 6 August elections to the professional chambers after its seats were reduced by a quarter to 49 (out of 2,230).

And although the electoral mass of these elections is not representative, for Bilal Talidi, a Moroccan editorialist and expert on Islamist movements, it is a sign of the PJD's decline.

In contrast to previous elections in which the Islamist party was more "united" and with a "powerful media campaign" embodied then in the figure of its popular former leader Abdelilah Benkirane, now the party is dragging along an internal crisis and an inability to cope with the media and political campaigns that are against it, Talidi told Efe.

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J. MORCHIDI (ANADOLU) - PJD press conference with Saad Eddine El Othmani in attendance

The normalisation of relations with Israel and the approval of laws such as the legalisation of cannabis and the generalisation of French in primary education have also been other factors that have directly or indirectly caused fissures among Islamists. But what will have the greatest impact on the PJD, according to Talidi, is the reform of the electoral law approved last March by all parties in the face of opposition from the Islamists.

This reform modifies the way in which the electoral quotient is calculated according to the lists of registered voters rather than valid votes, which in practice means a loss of more than 40 seats for the PJD and will possibly push it further away from first place.

An elite party as an alternative

As the Islamists try to close ranks and weather these difficulties, other formations are consolidating their position as an alternative in the next electoral phase.

A strong favourite is the National Rally of Independents (RNI), a formation created in 1978 that brings together notables, businessmen and senior government officials, and is considered close to power. The party is currently led by Aziz Ajanuch, Morocco's richest man and Minister of Agriculture since 2007.

Despite its poor performance in the 2016 legislative elections with 37 seats (with the loss of 15 seats compared to the previous elections), the party, according to observers, has intensified its programmes to gain more followers.

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AFP/FADEL SENNA - Parliament of the Kingdom of Morocco

"The RNI wants to break with the image of a party of notables and rich people who only know how to speak French," said Mostafa Yahyaoui, a university professor and expert in electoral geography, who added that the party has recently tried to dissociate itself from confrontations with other parties and has multiplied its proposals to resolve the crisis caused by Covid-19.

Yahyaoui told Efe that the studies he carried out on the ground showed that the RNI is increasingly present in new areas, trying to seduce the popular masses, one of the PJD's strongest points.

According to the Moroccan expert, there has been a change in the electoral behaviour of the Moroccan voter in recent years, with a trend towards a more apolitical vote to the detriment of party identification.

"More voters will now vote for people who are capable of providing them with concrete solutions, regardless of their ideologies," he said.

According to Yahyaoui, this new situation is not very favourable to the Islamists, as the undecided who had previously won their victory are changing sides.