Islamists’ poor governance behind ‘painful defeat’ in legislative elections

Analysts say PJD’s surprisingly crushing defeat is due to the Islamist party’s failure to fight corruption and lack of an elite force to govern besides the mishandling of the repercussions of the restrictive measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

LONDON - Morocco's ruling Islamists have suffered a crushing defeat to liberal parties in parliamentary elections after ten years at the helm of the government during which they failed to fight corruption and showed poor governance, according to analysts.

The Justice and Development Party (PJD) saw its seats dramatically fall from 125 seats to just 12 and will certainly head to the opposition bench.

RNI, led by billionaire agriculture minister Aziz Akhannouch, took 97 of the 395-seat parliament, followed by PAM with 82 seats and the Istiqlal with 78 seats.

Prime Minister Saad dine el Otmani was largely defeated in Rabat by RNI candidate Abderrahim Ouasla, in a sign that PJD’s popularity hit rock bottom amongst Moroccan voters.

The humiliating defeat in legislative elections prompted former Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkiran to call on Otmani to accept responsibility and step down as Secretary General of the PJD.

“As a member of the National Council of the Justice and Development Party and based on my legal status as a former Secretary General of the same party, and after learning about the painful defeat that our party suffered in the elections related to the House of Representatives, I consider that it is not appropriate for our party in these difficult circumstances except for the Secretary-General to bear his responsibility and tender his resignation from the party leadership,” outspoken Benkiran wrote on Facebook.

Turnout in Wednesday elections reached 50.3 percent, up from 43 percent in 2016, as Morocco held parliamentary, regional and local elections on the same day.

Analysts say that the crushing defeat of the PJD in parliamentary elections was due to the government’s poor handling of the coronavirus pandemic, especially the compensation of the most vulnerable layer of society from the repercussions of the restrictive measures to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Another aspect was the electoral campaign that has been waged on social networks. RNI outlasted PJD - which used to be well ahead of rival political parties thanks to its electronic army - by investing heavily in its campaign and using actors to spread its message.

Analysts argue that PJD’s painful defeat could be the beginning of the end of the Islamist party that saw its popularity rise during the Arab Spring in 2011 and could lead to a better business and investment climate, particularly with Gulf Arab states.

“RNI’s win of the legislative elections will open up new horizons to do business with Gulf Arab states and other countries,” Rachid Aourraz, economist and researcher at the Moroccan Institute for Policy Analysis, told Middle East Online.

“RNI has a lot of experience in key economic, industrial and agricultural sectors, and will continue to thrive on their achievements,” said Aourraz.

The new voting law that was adopted in March also took its toll on PJD. The system is based on the number of registered voters rather than the number of those who cast a ballot.

“I’m surprised by the vote results. PJD incurred heavy losses in the big cities, which were their strongholds,” said Aourraz.

“This clearly shows that Islamists have failed to fight corruption and shown poor governance besides the lack of an elite force to drive them towards a re-election,” said Aourraz.

The Friedrich Neumann Foundation said no single party would be able to take more than 100 seats with the new voting system.

The United States Embassy congratulated in a tweet Morocco on successfully holding general elections, saying that both countries’ shared commitment to democratic processes strengthens their 200 year partnership.

More than 100 international observers from 19 different organisations, alongside local 4,600 observers, monitored the elections.

Interior Minister Abdelouafi Laftit said that the elections were held in the "best conditions", despite a particular and exceptional situation in the midst of the pandemic.

"Despite the fact that these elections took place in a particular and exceptional situation, marked essentially by the challenges related to the current health crisis, our will to all and our awareness of the importance of the political stage that our country is going through, have allowed us together to hold these elections in the best conditions," said Laftit.