Anti-government activists in Morocco have marched to demand political reforms limiting the power of King Mohammed - the latest in a series of such protests in the Arab world. At least 2,000 people rallied in the capital, Rabat, Sunday, 20 February 2011. Organizers say they want democratic reforms to a constitution that gives King Mohammed sweeping powers, including the right to appoint the prime minister. But, the protesters made no direct criticisms of the king, who has earned a reputation as a reformist since ascending to the throne in 1999. The Moroccan government has portrayed the new protest movement as a sign of the country's political openness.
Morocco is a monarchy with a constitution, a bicameral Parliament, and an independent judiciary; however, ultimate authority rests with the king. Demonstrations occur frequently in Morocco and usually center on local domestic issues. During periods of heightened regional tension, large demonstrations may take place in the major cities. All demonstrations require a government permit, but on occasion spontaneous unauthorized demonstrations occur, which have greater potential for violence. In addition, different unions or groups may organize strikes to protest an emerging issue or government policy.
Morocco's human rights record is mixed. On the positive side of the ledger, Freedom of the press is considerable, although many journalists practice self-censorship and discussion of the monarchy is not permitted. Freedom of religion is generally observed, with some limitations. Although Islam is the official state religion, Moroccans are permitted to practice other faiths. However, restrictions apply to Christian proselytizing and political activities under the rubric of Islam. On the negative side, in view of the dominant role of the king in politics, Moroccans lack the ability to change their government. Following the Islamist terrorist attack in Casablanca in May 2003, human rights groups alleged that Morocco mistreated and even tortured detainees. Other human rights issues include violence and discrimination against women, child labor, and human trafficking. In 2005 the Moroccan parliament took steps to improve the status of women and children.
Political parties face some government-imposed restrictions. The Ministry of Interior [MOI] must approve political parties. Legislation places conditions on the establishment and functioning of political parties. The law requires parties to hold frequent national congresses and to include women and youth in the leadership structures. Public funding is based on a party's total representation in parliament and the total number of votes received nationally. Only registered members of a particular party may make private contributions. A party can be disbanded if it does not conform to the provisions stated in the law. To create a new party, organizers must submit to the MOI a declaration signed by at least 300 cofounding members from one-half of the 16 regions of the country.
The law does not distinguish political and security cases from common criminal cases. The government did not consider any of its prisoners to be political prisoners. The government stated that it detained individuals under criminal law only. Several NGOs, including the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH), Sahrawi organizations, and Berber activist groups, however, charged the government with detaining persons for political activities or beliefs under cover of criminal charges, such as AMDH members arrested for shouting antimonarchy slogans.
The government owns many key media outlets, including Moroccan radio and television. Moroccans have access to approximately 2,000 domestic and foreign publications. The Moroccan press agency, Maghreb Arab Press, and one Arabic daily newspaper, Al-Anbaa, are official organs of the government. One additional Arabic daily newspaper, Assahra Al Maghribia, and one French-language daily newspaper, Le Matin, are semi-official organs of the government. Although journalists continue to practice self-censorship, opposition dailies have begun to explore social and political issues that would have been considered out of bounds until recently. However, the media continue to exercise caution when discussing government corruption, human rights, and Morocco's policy toward Western Sahara. Radio Méditerranée Internationale (Medi-1), a joint French/Moroccan broadcaster, also practices self-censorship. According to the most recent available information, Morocco has 27 AM radio stations, 25 FM radio stations, 6 shortwave stations, and 35 television stations.
A 2002 law restricting media freedom states that expression deemed critical of "Islam, the institution of the monarchy, or territorial integrity" is not permitted and may be punishable by imprisonment. Satellite, internet programming, and print media are otherwise fairly unrestricted.
Morocco's elections for the lower chamber of parliament in September 2002 and for local government councils in September 2003, were widely regarded as free and fair. A large number of political parties are active in Morocco. After the parliamentary elections held on September 27, 2002, the five most successful parties, in order of the number of seats won, were the following: the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (Union Socialiste des Forces Populaires-USFP), Istiqlal (Independence) Party (Parti d' Indépendance-PI), Justice and Development Party (Parti de la Justice et du Développement-PJD), National Rally of Independents (Rassemblement National des Indépendants-RNI), and Popular Movement (Mouvement Populaire-MP). Political parties founded on religious, ethnic, linguistic, or regional bases are prohibited by law. The Government permits several parties identified as "Islamic oriented" to operate, and some have attracted substantial support, including the Party of Justice and Development (PJD), the third largest party in Parliament.
Electoral law and regulation give the MOI authority over the general operation of elections--from drawing the electoral districts to counting the votes. In March 2007 MOI redrew electoral districts to give more seats to less populated areas and dilute urban votes. The number of voters represented by each member of parliament varied significantly due to the manner in which the electoral districts were drawn. Redistricting took place before the 2009 local government elections.
Between March and September 2007 a combined MOJ/MOI commission received 1,260 allegations of preelectoral malfeasance. The majority of complaints related to "premature" campaigning and, to a lesser extent, the inappropriate use of money, unlawful attempts to influence voting by government agents, and election or campaign violence. Seven cases related to registration fraud. Of the allegations received, the commission referred 53 cases for trial or judicial action. Most of the defendants were released on bail and were still awaiting court dates.
Parliamentary elections were held in September 2007 and were regarded by international observers to be free and fair. However, voter turnout was disappointing, with only 37% of registered voters casting ballots. Abbas El Fassi of the winning Istiqlal Party was appointed to be Prime Minister by the King. The Islamist Party of Justice and Development (PJD) won the popular vote, but came in second behind Istiqlal in the number of parliamentary seats. El Fassi formed a government based on a minority coalition composed of the Istiqlal, the leftist USFP and PPS, and the centrist RNI. A special election to fill eight seats in Morocco's lower house of parliament was held in September 2008.
In the September 2007 legislative elections, the king mandated the royally chartered and appointed CCDH to supervise and facilitate the work of domestic and international observers, leading to the most transparent election in the country's history. The final counting was accepted by all political parties as accurate and certified by the MOI as legitimate.
Observers praised the government, including the MOI, for the professional administration of the September 2007 balloting. They attributed the low voter participation rate and high protest vote to weak parties and a parliament that has little vested power. Observers criticized preelection vote buying by parties and some instances of official misconduct at the district level. Domestic observers did not receive accreditation to observe the process until the eve of the election. All reports recommended the creation of an independent electoral commission.
The September 2007 parliamentary elections resulted in the selection of 34 women out 325 total parliamentary seats--a decline of one seat from the previous term. Thirty of the 34 new female representatives were elected from a national list reserved for female candidates. In contrast, Prime Minister Abbas El Fassi's new 33-member government included five women ministers and two women secretaries of state, compared with two in the previous government. Women occupy other key leadership slots, such as mayor of Essaouira and governor of a district in Casablanca. There were no female members of the Supreme Court.
Morocco's monarchy begin pursing democratic reforms in 2011 in a bid to head off the Arab Spring-style protests that have gripped much of the region. Moroccans overwhelming voted to adopt constitutional reforms that would curb the king's powers. But critics say the new constitution still keeps King Mohammed firmly in power by allowing him to choose the prime minister from the winning party, and by letting him oversee the country's religious matters, security apparatus and judiciary. The king proposed the constitutional changes in response to the country's so-called February 20 movement that had been holding regular protests to demand a parliamentary monarchy in the kingdom. As part of the effort, King Mohammed moved up elections that were originally set for late 2012. King Mohammed called for a prompt vote so the country can create a new government. Some of Morocco's political parties had argued that more time was needed to prepare for the poll.
A moderate Islamist party won the most seats in Morocco's parliamentary elections and will lead the country in forming a new government. The government said 26 November 2011 that preliminary results from Friday 25 November 2011 polling show the Justice and Development Party (PJD) captured about one-fifth of the seats in the 395-member assembly. Prime Minister Abbas el Fassi's nationalist Istiqlal Party came in second. The prime minister called the PJD's win a "victory for democracy." Ruling party leaders said they are ready to enter talks with PJD on forming a coalition government.
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