Local Elections: Room for Improvement

Saturday, June 13, 2009 | Ar-Ribat, Morocco

In every Moroccan city, numbered rectangles are spray-painted on walls to indicate where candidates may post campaign materials.
For days, the excitement was building up. First, symbols and posters began to appear in the numbered boxes spray-painted on walls around the country. Then, swarms of youths in matching t-shirts began parading the streets in ever-larger numbers, blocking traffic and leaving a stream of leaflets in their wake.

Here in Morocco, Friday was local election day. At stake? Some 28,000 municipal council seats across the country. Don't worry though, you can be forgiven for not knowing about the vote—most Moroccans themselves hardly seemed to notice.

On Friday, I asked several colleagues at work if they had plans to cast their ballot, and received a wide variety of "no"s—mumbled excuses, outright laughs at the mere suggestion of voting, and—this from several who had lived abroad—sheepish embarrassment. This last group, at least, knew
from experience how farcical Morocco's democratic motions can seem in comparison to the way it is practiced elsewhere. (The Kingdom of Morocco likes Western donors to think of it as a "constitutional monarchy", though if human rights reports—check out Amnesty International's latest—are any indication, Morocco is no UK.)

In general, popular attitudes toward voting seem to range from apathy to extreme apathy. And why not, in a political system where elected representatives exercise so little power? By the same logic, the lack-of-incentive structure facing politicians and parties gives them little reason to announce their policies, and even less incentive to stick to them. Party switching (known as "nomadisme") is rife—a fact which further decreases popular support for elected leaders.

So why are the young marchers suddenly showing such an affinity for politics? In some cases, their fervor may be manufactured—the product of payoffs from political parties. Or perhaps in campaigning these unemployed teens and twenty-somethings see a cause, a calling, or an identity (however fleeting it may be). After all, it's likely that these youths are the same ones who normally spend their days demonstrating in Rabat's public squares, demanding that the government come up with jobs for them.

In official results released today, the Interior Ministry announced that over 7 million voters—about 52 percent of those eligible—cast a ballot Friday. (Though this rosy outlook was helped by the Ministry's decision to strike some 11 percent of the names from the registered voter lists prior to the polls.)

And the party that won the most seats? The Parti Authenticit√© et Modernit√©—a grouping of loyal monarchists cobbled together just a few months ago by a former schoolmate of his majesty.

The elections passed, nothing changed. It's back to normal now. Morocco's youth return to the job hunt.

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