West hails Morocco 'yes' vote on reforms

Voters massively endorsed reforms

Morocco's King Mohammed VI won praise from Europe and the United States Saturday after voters massively endorsed reforms offered in a bid to quiet protests inspired by uprisings in the Arab world.
More than 98 percent of voters backed a new constitution curbing the king's powers that was put to a referendum on Friday, preliminary results showed, with voter turnout at 72.65 percent.
Faced with demonstrations modelled on those that ousted long-serving leaders in Tunisia and Egypt, Mohammed VI announced the referendum last month to devolve some of his powers to the prime minister and parliament.
The reform would "consolidate the pillars of a constitutional monarchy", he said.
"We welcome the positive outcome of the referendum on the new Constitution in Morocco and commend the peaceful and democratic spirit surrounding the vote...," said a European Union statement.
"Now we encourage the swift and effective implementation of this reform agenda.
"Moroccan citizens should remain at the centre of this process and the inclusive dialogue with their representatives should continue and grow stronger," it added.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a statement he had told the king of "France's full support for the exemplary process through which Morocco is resolutely and peacefully pursuing its deepening of democracy."
The Moroccan people had made a "clear and historic decision", French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said in a separate statement.
"In the context of a shaken region, where the democratic process had to be imposed by confrontation, sometimes violent... Morocco has succeeded in four months, peacefully and with dialogue, to take a decisive step," he added.
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero also hailed the vote.
"The commitment shown by His Majesty to bring about these changes is becoming a reference point for many other countries," he said.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement: "We support the Moroccan people and leaders in their efforts to strengthen the rule of law, raise human rights standards, promote good governance and work toward long-term democratic reform that incorporates checks and balances."
But the youth-based February 20 Movement, which organised weeks of pro-reform protests, denounced the result and announced another demonstration on Sunday. They have already dismissed the king's reforms as inadequate.
"The movement will demonstrate peacefully on Sunday to protest against this ridiculous result," Najib Chaouki, one of the movement's leaders, said.
"This referendum was illegal because it was marked by massive violations of democratic principles," he said.
Under the draft constitution, the king will remain head of state, the military, and the Islamic faith in Morocco.
But the prime minister, chosen from the largest party elected to parliament, will take over as the head of government.
Mohammed VI, who in 1999 took over the Arab world's longest-serving dynasty, offered reforms after the February 20 Movement organised weeks of protests that brought thousands to the streets. They were calling for greater democracy, better economic prospects and an end to corruption.
The reforms fall far short of the full constitutional monarchy many protesters were demanding and the movement had urged a boycott of Friday's vote.
Analysts said the result was a step toward democracy for Morocco, but far from the final one.
"A constitution does not change a system, a constitution creates the framework in which a system can change," said Mohamed Tozy, a political science professor at Casablanca's Hassan II University.
"Is the constitution a good framework for Morocco to change, and to change radically? Yes. Will the constitution change Morocco? No. It will depend on the people who will apply it," he said.
Along with changes granting the prime minister more executive authority, the new constitution will reinforce the independence of the judiciary and enlarge parliament's role.
It will also remove a reference to the king as "sacred", though he will remain "Commander of the Faithful" and "inviolable".
The new constitution will also guarantee more rights to women and make Berber an official language along with Arabic -- the first time a north African country has granted official status to the region's indigenous language.