Morocco’s ruling Islamists trailing in local polls



Morocco’s ruling Islamists were on course Saturday to finish second behind the liberal opposition in local polls seen as a gauge of the political climate ahead of next year’s general election, partial results showed.

With around 80 percent of the ballots tallied, the Party of Authenticity and Modernity (PAM), a liberal opposition party founded by a politician close to the king, was leading with 20.7 percent of the votes, the interior ministry said.

Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane’s Justice and Development Party (PJD) was trailing with 17.1 percent, Interior Minister Mohamed Hassad said during a late-night news conference.

Friday’s municipal and regional polls were viewed as a key test for the ruling Islamists nearly four years after they swept to power following Arab Spring protests that ushered in constitutional reforms.

Despite the prospect of defeat, the PJD hailed the result as a significant improvement compared with its previous performance in local elections in 2009, when it finished with 5.4 percent, far behind PAM which scored 21 percent.

“These results confirm the confidence of the Moroccan people in the work of the government,” said Abdelali Hamieddine, a senior official with the Islamist party.

“We have achieved the results we expected,” he added.

The interior ministry said turnout was 52.3 percent, little changed compared with 2009. About 15 million people were eligible to vote.

Habiba Ramzi, a voter in her 80s, said she hoped that those elected “will think about the poor this time”.

“To those candidates I say ‘enough corruption and lies,'” she said, adding that she wanted to see more done to improve education.

In 2011, Benkirane’s Justice and Development Party (PJD) became the North African country’s first Islamist party to win a national election, and the first to lead a government.

That vote followed concessions from King Mohammed VI, the scion of a monarchy that has ruled the country for 350 years.

A new constitution curbed some, but not all, of the king’s near-absolute powers as pro-democracy uprisings unseated autocratic regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

Previously the monarch could choose his prime minister, but he must now appoint someone from the party that wins the most seats in parliament.

The local polls were boycotted by Morocco’s largest Islamist movement, Justice and Charity, and the smaller, far-leftist party Democratic Path.

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