Abdelilah Benkirane, the PJD’s (Justice and Development) leader, is living an enviable political moment. His party’s electoral win hurtled him into the inner circle of the King’s decision making process. He was summoned to the Palace to be officially nominated as Prime Minister and tasked with the formation of a new government today. He will most likely be advised of the King’s agenda in due time and required to ensure that his future government’s plan of action accommodates it. I am fairly certain that the King’s agenda and the PJD’s coalesce under the general premise that the primary focus is the nation’s interest.
The PJD surged in the polls taking 107 of 395 Parliament seats last Friday humbling the parties known to form Morocco’s power structure. Al-Istiqlal came in a distant second with 60 seats. Of the 13 million registered voters, 45.6% participated. The results of Morocco’s first “wave” election show that there is a national consensus that the country’s traditional and sclerotic political parties might be the source of all evil. There is an urgent need for a dramatic transformation of the political culture and the PJD might very well be the harbinger of genuine democracy in Morocco.
I admit I was too conventional in my analysis of the outcome of the election. I figured it would follow a familiar script in which al-Ahrar, al-Istiqlal, PAM, or al-Itihad al-Ishtiraki would take the lead. The PJD, a moderate Islamist party which has been dismissed as too radical, humiliated, scorned, and ridiculed by an ossified political structure that hoped it would flare and fizzle, has emerged as a change agent of epic proportions. It has cast itself during the electoral campaign as an alternative to the political oligarchy whose wealth and control over national resources are no longer enough to buy it an electoral victory. The majority of Moroccans, including the youths of 20 February Movement, the internet and social media savvy rebels and activists who most certainly do not share the PJD’s views, concede it is the only political party in Morocco today with the fire power and a grand enough ambition to remodel the Moroccan political structure and change its withering ways. The party promised real solutions to the enormous problems Abbas El Fassi’s cratering government exacerbated, if not created. It announced bold and dramatic changes: decreasing poverty by 50%, increasing minimum wage by 50%, and eradicating corruption.
Benkirane was able to masterfully steer his party to tap the people’s simmering angst about a crippling stagflation. He demonstrated a confident command of issues and a knack for sound bites Moroccans related to. His eloquent, yet colloquial rhetoric is often change inspiring exhortations suffused with passion and clarity and carrying just the right amount of florid quotations from the Koran and the Hadith. By emphasizing high ethical standards in the practice of politics, he was able to attract a sizable young electorate that has grown tired of the self-serving back-room deals of the other parties. Public anger at a coterie bent on morally and physically looting the country and the global economic distress brought the PJD back from political irrelevance and front and centered it on the electoral stage.
Needless to say, The PJD will have to live up to the huge expectations of the Moroccan people. Benkirane often bridled at the criticism that the PJD is an Islamist party explaining that it is a political party that uses Islam as a reference. Nonetheless, its perceived religious doctrine evokes serious concern among moderate Moroccans that the party’s hardliners will attempt to cut the country’s ties with the West. There is a sense among people that the PJD will remain locked into its dogmatic orthodoxies; there is a fear its minders will start patrolling the streets shutting down bars and evacuating beaches enforcing scriptures. The PJD’s leadership is well aware that doing so will sabotage its future. It will have to fashion itself into an icon of political moderation and religious tolerance.
Based on their comments to the media, PJD’s leadership understands there is a paramount requirement to rebuild people’s trust in the government before committing to any transformational quixotic agenda. Threatening to change everything at once will magnify distrust and undermine its legitimacy. People need to know that they will be treated with dignity by an independent judicial and the security service is accountable for its actions. Before tackling corruption and other forms of moral deprivation, they need to create jobs, enhance public service, mitigate poverty, and enforce existing laws on gender equality and child labor. And by any standard, that is a tall order to fulfill for a party lacking experience in government management in the rough and tumble Moroccan society.
A. T. B. © 2011