Following Morocco’s Elections From Afar

TALIM Elections
Party poster show, Election Day minus 4

UPDATE 11/26/2011:  Checking international media sources, it appears that the moderate Islamist PJD is claiming victory in yesterday's parliamentary elections in Morocco.  And it looks like voter turnout, though slightly higher than in 2007, is still below half the electorate – the result no doubt of a vigorous boycott campaign by the February 20 movement.

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If it hadn't been for travel back to the US at the very time of Morocco's parliamentary elections, I would have been out, pounding the pavement in my old diplomatic reporting tradition of election observation, low-tech style.  Alas, we'll be away from Morocco on election day, Friday 25 November.

King Mohammed VI has also decided to be away on election day, apparently, as some Moroccan papers have editorialized, as both a sign of confidence in the process and to indicate his neutrality vis-à-vis political parties.

While His Majesty will have the best of political analysis at his disposal, we'll just have to tune in from afar to follow the results.  Happily, with websites of organizations sending observers to Morocco, that will be much easier for us.  So here's where we'll be tuning in for a feel of how things go next Friday:

  • First, Morocco's own Observatoire des Elections, a consortium of civil society organizations which will deploy more than 3,000 observers throughout the country
  • Some of the observers will have been trained by an organization with long experience in election monitoring, the OSCE's ODIHR – Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights
  • IFES, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, has been working with Morocco, and has published a useful Election Guide
  • In the Moroccan media, the mission of PACE – the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe – has cornered the market on international electoral respectability
  • America's respected National Democratic Institute, NDI, has long been working in democratization in Morocco, as has the IRI, the International Republican Institute
  • The old standby, the BBC, can be counted on for breaking election news

All that said, I am a bit concerned that electoral fever hasn't yet reached room temperature.  Once – since the brief campaign period began a couple of weeks ago – only once have I even witnessed a political rally.  It consisted of a group of young men, in matching white baseball caps, parading through the medina chanting and letting loose a sheaf of electoral flyers (they were from the moderate Islamist PJD, the Justice and Development Party).

Our photo, taken today – i.e., exactly 4 days before election day – shows the slots on a nearby wall that are supposed to be filled with posters from the 31 parties in the race.  Did they run out of paper?  Or are the parties so enamored of social media that they are forgoing posters?

Methinks it's a sign that some parties are just going through the motions, though some people have said that "February 20" movement activists have torn down posters.  Of the 31 parties in the running, the bottom 16 represent altogether barely 10% of the projected vote.

And that may be part of the problem.  31 parties is a large number.  How can a normal citizen begin to understand what they stand for, how they differ from the other 30?  There is a "G-8" grouping, but some analysts say that the eight parties which form it are so diverse that it is impossible to find a unifying thread.

Which may be one of the reasons that the PJD, those guys with the white caps, are ahead in informal polls.  In a country where the previous turnout, some 37% in 2007, prompted the NDI to write a report on Voter Apathy Morocco 2007, the dispersal of the vote among 31 parties will give the advantage to the party with a plurality.  Is the turnout target this year simply to "do better" than 37%?

Get out the vote: that was the key to the Islamist FIS victories in Algeria in 1990 and 1991, and is the simplest rule of elections.  Apathy hands victory to those who vote.

Gerald Loftus

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