Research studies

Morocco`s Partisan Landscape: Political Structures Facing Social Challenges


Dr Mohammed Issam Laaroussi

Prof of Political Science.

Trends Institution for Research and Advisory

Democratic Arab Center 


Morocco`s Parliamentary elections 2016 was the second election since the kingdom adopted constitutional reforms in 2011 which was designed to calm the forces calling for reform after the protests during the Arab Spring uprisings(1) . The Justice and Development Party (PJD) won the election in 2011 and has led the government since then. It was the first-time King Mohammed IV had allowed an Islamist group to take power. Although the reformed constitution has shifted some powers to the elected government,King Mohammed IV retained ultimate authority(2).  The October 2016 legislative elections were uneventful, at least on the surface. There was rivalry between the PJD and the secular Party of Authenticity and Modernity PAM, widely regarded as close to the palace, this rivalry, which has consumed public debate, overshadows the unaddressed(overlooked) structural social and economic issues that have plagued the country for a long time.

PJD which leads Morocco’s coalition government has been invested an ideological conflict withotheropposition political parties and within the coalition, thereforethe PJD works in a challengingpolitical environment. Further, some believe that behind the scenes, the “Makhzen” has been attempting to weaken the PJD’s popularity. In fact, although the party rode the wave of the Arab Spring to power, “the deep state”[1]still sees the PJD as a temporary appendage to the stability of the system.(3) Are the elections still considered as available tool for PJD to achieve its political ends  in a such Morocco`s confused political domestic space -which no one can believe that its ideological insight could be implemented?- and it’s most recommended  to ask if PJD might be converted to a normal secular party without inspiring Islamic ideology’s cover? Furthermore, we might also ask if PJD has beenrestrained by the monarchy who has been trying to undermine the Islamic party paving the way to other liberal tendencies to emerge as a pivot partisan player in Morocco’s political scene like the national rally of liberals.

After the designation of SaadEddine Elothmani as the head of new Morocco`s government, the PJD is now totally co-opted. It has accepted the previously unacceptable – to take part in the same government with the socialists, a party they abhor for ideological and religious reasons. Obviously, for the PJD, power and related financial advantages became a defining reason to join the government. Since then, PJD has openly abandoned their principles and tenets(4).The political landscapeis characterized by hybrid structurewhich remarkablyidentified theprominent needs of rebuilding Morocco`s partisan landscape byestablishing strategic orientations based on liberal ideology linefocusing basically the disheartenment of the Islamic party.

 The social liberalism and moderation might be the successful approach to fix-up Morocco`s economic and social dilemmas, thistendency has been historically and strategically adopted by Morocco`s state after the independence. Thecurrent Morocco`s incoherent government explain mainly the decline of the PJD with its low representation in the multi-polar government, however the national rally of liberals has gained important ministerial portfolios, playing again a balance game with strong technocratic presence in the governmental cabinet.It has been seen that SaadEddineOthmani government facing a serious challenge to control the grievances spreading more than seven months in Morocco`s Rif region where a big range of population voice their dissatisfaction toward governmental policies asking for impartialtreatment as some regions suffer from marginalization andoppression as well.

PJD`S Political shortages and limits

Basically, PJD is suffering from sagging popularity and many indicators show that it is no longer the future political force in Morocco due to its political degrading position after Othmani government designation. Many of PJD`s militants have manifested their refusal to Benkirane`s dismissal, nevertheless they do not accept the decision made by the King as he solely nominated SaadEddineOthmani. The PJD’sparty has its own managementshortcomings,the Islamic party has misunderstoodthe mechanisms of powerruling Moroccan political system, in respect of the non-implementation of constitutional attributions on the light of monarchy hegemonic traditions and its inability to advocate innovativeprojects eager to find appropriate outputs to the economic and social problems in Morocco. PJD prefers to sustain power as a lead of hybrid coalition assuming very symbolic ministerial department, rather than challenging the king’s legitimacybaring as well Benkirane populist rhetoric.

The major outputs and circumstances of government shape, devoted theroyalty control over Morocco`s political landscape, then we can imagine thatthe political system has succeeded to weakenPJD and break down its official and popular ties.Moreover,PJD is about losing its internal cohesion and Moroccan citizens trust as well.

Based on current evidence, what will be its real options and manoeuvres to deal with Moroccan regime characterized by a king`s monopoly of the main constitutional attributions labelled “strategic functions” instead of miserable technical functions assumed by the government and finally, is the Morocco`s hybrid partisan feature represents a new threat of Moroccan political democracy and pluralism. Morocco`s Monarchy and the PJD were conducting successful consensus arena in the Arab World in order to keep as much as they can the stability in the country, however how long this scenario could be successful and resisting social grievances which take place in Moroccofor social tasks and do not even care about political parties.

What should be thestrategic alternatives that might be implemented in case of dislocation of the Islamic Party from the political scene?As it was said Morocco`s state reliance on the secular party “PAM” has led to doubtful outputswhich only exposed the party`s weakness and inability towin the rivalry with PJD. Moreover PAM, has been seen as deep state`s project, has adopted controversial rhetoric and practice, infected, dramatically, Moroccan political space,invested only on false flag struggle against PJD leaders, the scandalshas flooded the political space instead of partisan programs competition.

Regardless of Islamic party’s decline in the MENA region after the collapse of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Renaissance Party’s retreat in Tunisia, the PJD was re-elected as a lead party in Morocco’s parliamentary election. Since 2011, the PJD painted itself as an inevitable alternative party which could redress a structural crisis in Morocco. The PJD rhetoric stressed the eradication of corruption, bribery, clientelism and advocated popular policies in order to win elections. The Arab uprisings provided an opportune moment for the PJD to contest the elections of 2011. The PJD won a slight plurality of the votes, but as in past elections, the party’s electoral performance was a function of state control of the process. Unfavourable electoral districting and the lack of a strong appeal in rural Morocco, historically due to the prevalence of traditional pro-palace parties and vast patronage networks, have long hampered the PJD(5).Pro-palace parties such as the Party of Authenticity and Modernity (PAM) and the National Rally of Independents (RNI) also managed gains in the elections[2].

The legislative election outcomes are shaping a new political space shared by two tendencies. One is secular and the other is Islamic challenging what is hoped to be the establishment of a healthy Moroccan multiparty system. Many observers expect the failure of the Morocco’s bipolar partisan system due to a lack of the two-party’s maturation. The PAM and PJD have been trying desperately to emphasize their differences by developing two opposing narratives. The PAM has been trying to ride the region’s anti-Islamist wave and appeal to centre-left voters in a way that resembles the Tunisian political experience. As for the PJD, it often hints that the main resistance it has faced has been from other patronage parties and the King’s entourage (the businessmen, journalists, and notables closely linked to the monarchy, as well as an influential team of advisors, who act as a parallel cabinet).Often resorting to Moroccan dialect in his speeches, AbelilahBenkirane, the head of Morocco’s government, tries to mobilize his conservative, middle-class, and urban constituencies by presenting the PJD as an anti-establishment party.

PJD into hybrid political practice

Linked to a positive point of view, Morocco is seen by many observers as safe, secure and prominent democratic model which escaped from the fallout of Arab Spring uprisings. Launching a new political process and introducing the constitutional reform in 2011 believed to save the kingdom the fate of many surrounding states(6). Democratising of the political landscape was one of the main promises given by the monarchy to redress Morocco’s political structure and as such it shifted some new duties to a head of government who is selected from the party that wins the legislative election. Thus, the West’ is happy for what appears to be a successful integration of isalmists into Morocco’s political process.

            Engaging Islamists in the political system has often been criticized because of the perception that Islamists are intransigent on issues of pluralism, human rights or the station of Israel[3]. However, PJD proved that Islamises are willing to play by the democratic rules of the game for a deep cultural reason. Using the framework of participation-moderation theory which was pioneered by Samuel Huntington (1991) in Third wave democracy, where he first proposed that parties generally sacrifice ideological platforms for the sake of political legality and success in the elections(7).  In more open context, Islamists can concentrate on their work in parliament and the creation of concrete agenda if Islamist parties do not face excessive repression, and if their popularity is translated into representation in parliament. Based on a participation theory, the PJD became the sole beneficiary of democratic openings in spite of their earlier reluctance to join the protests whole-heartedly. PJD`s moderation policy can get to the forefront of the organization and the party becomes more institutionalized, more flexible and open to compromises.

Regardless of the King’s neutrality in this election, the King Mohamed IV’s distance is a sign that this round hardly matters in Morocco’s institutional division of labour. The king is de facto the exclusive decision-maker on a series of long-term and strategic matters, ranging from foreign policy to big infrastructure projects in Morocco(8)

As many observers feared, voter turnout was lower than during the 2011 elections, with only 43 % of the eligible population turned out to cast their ballot. This poor turnout is widely considered as a message of disappointment with political parties, lack of motivation and country-wide dissatisfaction with political parties among citizens and especially youth population(9). Many citizens have expressed their resentments on the poor performance of the previous governments and the country’s politicians, who remain unable to rectify the citizen’s daily problems. The next government should alleviate the challenges associated with health care, education and to find new mechanisms to generate employment. The hope is that they address major social challenges that previous governments failed to address.

Social protests drown Morocco`s political space

Many Moroccans believe that the new government was not successful in improvingtheir disaster situations[4].The incompetent political elite is the main obstacle that prevents the country from advancing to the forefront line,the degrading role of Political Parties’ in Constitutionalising Good Governance and contributing positively in legislature actions.the absence of civic and political institutions serving the mediation rolebetween governed and governors. For instance, the political parties and trade unions has mainly collapsed from the sceneandtheir socialinfluence is equal to sum zero, this hascaused some serious damages in political landscape. The partisan failure to strengthen Morocco’s youth trust on politics has rapidityrise the escalation of social upheavals increasingthe gap ofmisunderstanding between state and hatemongers.

Morocco’s political parties strayed away from the promised political and social agendas they promised, and as a result many Moroccans are disappointed due to the fact thatthis change did not bring measured social, economic or political progress. The main political parties’ consensus is portrayed as underlying agreement to neglect Morocco’s structural economic issues debate. Three major problems undermine the long-term economic development of Moroccoand could be attributed to the persistent low growth rates despite the apparent success of its investment policy. First, the country has extremely low levels of human capital and one of the worst-performing education systems in the MENA region, according to all surveys in this field. Secondly, there is very little competition in most domestic sectors. From retail to banking and telecommunications, the domestic economy is controlled by few companies while the bodies supposed to enforce competition have been rendered useless. This corruption impacts productivity and innovation in the economy. Finally, Morocco’s economic governance is unable to guarantee a level playing field to businesses, which remain susceptible to political interference(10).These are all political, economic and social challenges many hope to see the new government tackle, but have little reason to be too hopeful.

Rectifyingthe political power and civil society relationship is one of the main political priorities as it helpsaddress social grievances and alleviate societal injustice, however it’s not an easytask for now.Thefoundation of a new social contract process that establish stronger ties between citizen and state is needed more than ever.Moving forward, building modern Moroccanstate as powerful nation-state, requires renewing the interactive political ties connecting peopleunder citizenshiprelation, respectinghuman rights,intellectual and political freedoms as well,this coherent action will contribute to strengthen the national community, the sense of responsibility and the exercise of citizenship rights.Preserving Moroccan identity cohesion should focus on the rejection of the sectarian and religious statements identified as major factors behind the dislocation of many Arab countries.


1/   Parliamentary elections, October (2016), retrieved from

2/  Riccardo Fabiani: Hollow Rivalry in Morocco’s Upcoming Elections, 22 September (2016), retrieved from

3/ The deep state, state within a state, shadow government, or permanent government is a network of individuals and groups which are in actual charge of a national government. Many “democratically elected” governments work as fronts, providing a level of plausible deniability and allowing the deep state to operate in secret.

4/  MohammedChtatou, Morocco’s PJD Abandons Its Principles to Stay in Power, retrieved from

5/ Mohamed Daadaoui, Islamism and the State in Morocco, April 29th, (2016), retrieved from:

6/  MohammedDaadaoui, Moroccan Monarchy and the Islamist Challenge: Maintaining Makhzen Power, palgravemacmillan, First Edition, August 2011 page 114.

7/ KatarínaPevná: Moderation of Islamist Movements. A Comparative Analysis of Moroccan PJD and Egyptian, Muslim Brotherhood, retrieved from:

8/ Gulf News: 5 October (2016) retrieved from:

9/ Samir Benis: Moroccans have lost trust in their politicians, 14 October (2016), retrieved from

10/  RiccardoFabiani: Hollow Rivalry in Morocco’s Upcoming Elections, 22 September (2016), retrieved from

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