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Morocco: Campaigning for the Disenchanted

The electoral campaign for the local council (or communal) elections in Morocco, due on June 12, 2009, was officially launched on Saturday, 30 May. Some 30 parties will compete for 27,000 rural and urban council seats spread across the country over about 22,000 electoral districts. A quota has been imposed on all parties to guaranty a minimum of 12 per cent women representation, whilst the voting age has been lowered from 23 to 21. The government pledged neutrality in the process and declared through its ministry of interior that “all measures will be taken to prevent vote-rigging,” a phenomena that has long plagued electoral processes in the north African kingdom.

Walking Bernoussi (a neighbourhood in Casablanca), by oNico® in Flickr.

Walking in Bernoussi (a neighbourhood in Casablanca), by oNico® in Flickr.

These elections come after an amendment of the so-called Communal Charter that organizes and determines the role of the communes. The reform intends basically -according to some analysts [Fr]- to strengthen the political power of the communes, to reinforce their independence and to increase their accountability. It is way to ensure good governance -at least officially.

The debate seems to be raging over the Moroccan blogosphere about the relevance of the process, participation over boycott, and the balkanized political scene.

Taha Balafrej [Fr], recollects his memories of a similar poll held back in June 1997, only to find out unsatisfactorily, that the obstacles to progress that he detected 12 years ago are still standing on the way:

[C]e pays que nous aimons tant, se trouve empêtré dans une situation délicate. Il est confronté à des défis importants, vitaux. Pour s’en sortir, il a choisi une voie consensuelle. Celle de la construction démocratique. Pas à pas. Jalon après jalon. Pour y arriver, de nombreuses années de formation et d’apprentissage, sont nécessaires. Pour réussir, l’engagement de tous est indispensable. Mais ces bonnes paroles, ces précautions, ces considérations objectives, rationnelles et claires butent sur des logiques négativement manœuvrières, sur des ambitions malsaines. Sur des appareils qui ont des logiques et des visions qui tranchent avec le bon sens.

This country that we love so much is entangled into a delicate situation. It is faced with important, vital challenges. To get out of this situation, it has chosen consensus and democratic construction: step by step, milestone after milestone. To achieve this, years of training and education are necessary. To succeed, the involvement of everybody is indispensable. But all this beautiful talk, those provisions, objective, rational and clear considerations collide with adverse tactics and unhealthy ambitions. Systems that project visions and logic that contravene common sense.

Disenchanted, El Yacoubi comments on the aforementioned post as follows:

[Ces élections sont] un hypersouk où les voix s’échangent , se vendent , se bradent.
À gauche , comme à droite : des promesses et des billets..circulent , s’entrecroisent , s’affrontent , s’entrelacent et se séparent , avec un sourire entendu et moqueur .

Those elections are a Hypersouk [souk is Arabic for traditional rural market] where votes change hands, are auctioned, sold off. From left and right, promises and bank notes circulate, pass over each other, clash, grapple then break off with a background of resounding and mocking smiles.

On the 25 May, a new group, calling itself “the Association of Moroccan Bloggers” [Ar], believed to be close to the banned Islamist group of Al ‘Adl wal Ihssane (Justice and Charity), appeared on the blogosphere, calling for a campaign to fight electoral corruption by reporting through electronic means, all cases of electoral fraud that bloggers might encounter. The “manifesto” reads:

حملة تدوينية تستمر طيلة فترة الحملة الانتخابية حتى الإعلان عن النتائج… أهدافها: ترسيخ دور المواطن في ممارسة الدور الرقابي في الشأن السياسي. تسليط الضوء على مظاهر الفساد الانتخابي
التحسيس بخطورة الفساد الانتخابي …
فضح جميع الممارسات المشبوهة التي تواكب العملية الانتخابية ومحاصرة المفسدين. إصدار عمل توثيقي حول نزاهة العملية الانتخابية اعتمادا على تقارير المدونين.
A blogging campaign that will last throughout the electoral process and until the declaration of the results […] We seek to consolidate the citizen's role as a monitor of the political scene; shed light on electoral corruption; inform about the dangers of such practices; expose all questionable behaviours associated with the electoral process; the publication of a documentary work on the fairness and integrity of the electoral process based on the reports from bloggers.

The campaign is vehemently supported by veteran human rights activist and retired politician, now blogger, Abdelkader Alami [Ar]:

إن أي تطور إيجابي في الحياة السياسية والاقتصادية والاجتماعية لا يمكن أن يتحقق إلا بالمحاربة القوية للفساد الانتخابي وقيام مؤسسات ذات تمثيلية حقيقية ومصداقية في تكوينها، وفعالية في أدائها.
Any positive development in the political, social and economic life can not be achieved without a commitment to fight electoral corruption and establish genuinely representative, credible and efficient institutions.

Morocco has indeed suffered throughout its 50 years of independence from endemic corruption, not least during electoral processes. Transparency Maroc [Fr], a branch of Transparency International, an NGO committed to fighting corruption, whilst it salutes the creation of the ICPC, the newly founded anti-corruption authority, deplores “the lack of efficient reforms and the persistence at the level of the communes of poor services and infrastructures, corruption and cronyism.”

On a more derisive tone Mounir Bensaleh [Ar], writing on the collective blog Nebrass A'shabab [Ar], explains the ethology of a new species of what he describes as “electoral domesticated animals.” They are a bunch of political opportunists who have become so familiar to Moroccan voters:

أنتجت سياسات الدولة منذ بداية التجربة الانتخابية في المغرب كائنات سياسية مروضة و متمرسة على “اللعبة” السياسية بشروطها المحلية…
ولتسامحني الحيوانات الحقيقية لاستعارتي لأسمها فأنا أكن لها كل الاحترام
… لا تفقه هاته الحيوانات في الثقافة السياسية ولا في التمايز بين المشاريع السياسية. لا يهمها اليمين ولا اليسار ولا حتى الوسط. لا تمتلك برنامجا ولا تعرض تصورات ولا تنافس على أساس معرفة ما. إنها حيوانات لا تأبه بحقوق الإنسان ولا بالديموقراطية ولا بالمؤسسات ولا بدولة الحق …
كونت هذه الحيوانات أموالا طائلة في سنوات كانت الدولة تشتري السلم الاجتماعي بالنقود و الامتيازات…
لا أريد لنفسي و لا لأبنائي أن تحكمنا هاته الحيوانات .
State policies have produced since the inception of the electoral experience, new species, experienced and trained in the art of the political “game” with its local features. I have to apologise here to the real animals, for having usurped their name, for I have every respect for them.
Political domesticated animals know nothing about the political culture, nor about the different political projects. They're not concerned by the left or the right nor even the center. They don't have programs nor do they offer any vision based on any given expertise…
These animals don't care about human rights, democracy, the institutions or the righteous state. They have amassed fortunes for years during which the state bought them off in exchange for social peace…
I don't want, me nor my children, to be ruled by such animals.

Most recurrent themes seem to be apathy, disinterest and often ignorance of electoral issues. This is a sentiment Mohamed Behrani [Ar] blogging on Nebrass A'shabab tried to touch upon:

ولعل ما يحرجني أكثر، هو أن السواد الأعظم من أبناء هذا الشعب لا يفقهون في العملية الإنتخابية شيئاً، كل ما يعلمون أن هناك شخصان أو ثلاتة يتنافسون للفوز بشيءٍ لايهتمون إطلاقا بمعرفته .
What embarrasses me more, is that the vast majority of people do not understand much about the electoral process. All they know is that there are two or three people competing over some illusive thing they don't really care about.

This disillusionment stems from deep concerns about the relevance of such electoral process in countries such as Morocco where the power remains essentially centralized.

Throughout the Maghreb, 2009 will definitely be remembered as an electoral year, but as Nawaat, a dissident Tunisian collective blog explains:

Regrettably, these elections –[…]presidential elections in Algeria, Tunisia’s presidential and legislative elections in October, and Morocco’s local council elections in June – attest not to the vibrancy of democracy in the region, but rather to its lingering authoritarianism.

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