Testing the Justice and Development Party’s performance in the upcoming Moroccan elections

Morocco is currently preparing for legislative, municipal and general elections on September 8, 2021, amid challenging national and international circumstances. The elections are of great importance as they will reshape the political scene, determining balances of power within the legislative institution and political alliances. Several political parties, with various affiliations and programs, are participating in this year’s election. The prime concern of these parties is facing challenges pertaining to social protection, job opportunities, education development, and administrative reform, as well as containing the serious consequences of the Coronavirus epidemic in all areas of life.

Moroccan authorities stress that they are doing their best so that the elections would be free and fair. In order to make sure that religion will not be exploited for political purposes by certain parties and groups, the Ministry of Habous and Islamic Affairs directed that mosques must never be used in campaigning for the candidates, and that Imams must remain unbiased in their speeches and sermons.

Justice and Development Party (henceforth JDP), one of the most influential Islamic parties in Morocco, seems to have every confidence that it will form the government again, despite the severe criticism it faced the two times it was in power. The party’s confidence seems to be unjustified, given the decline in popularity that Islamic groups have been facing in Morocco and many other Arab countries, such as Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia.

Internal Challenges

JDP has placed a number of its leaders on top of the electoral lists of candidates for ministers, presidents of regional councils, and mayors. It managed to fill candidates in 100% of all constituencies. Its campaign started with its candidates signing a convention in which they pledged to regularly attend parliamentary sittings, be honest about their possessions and abide by the laws.

JDP is taking part in the upcoming elections amid many events that are highly likely to negatively affect its results. The Islamic party which led Morocco twice (from 2011 to 2016, then from 2016 to 2021) has been increasingly criticized, on account of the huge discrepancies between the slogans that its leaders adopted when they first assumed power in 2011 and reality. Though they enjoyed immense authority granted to them by the constitution, JDP leaders did not live up to people’s expectations as far as social, political and economic issues are concerned.   

In the two times they were elected, the party’s leaders were criticized for not fulfilling the promises they made during their campaigns, notably failing to bring about structural reforms required for promoting high standards of governance. In addition, they did not manage to overcome social problems related to poverty and graduate unemployment, not to mention their failure to combat corruption or handle Morocco’s debt.

At the same time, JDP leaders never tired of adopting ‘oppositional’ discourse in order not to be held accountable, accusing so-called ‘reform-resisting forces’, and other ‘vague’ entities, of impeding their performance.

Besides, the party has lately experienced internal conflicts, as some of its members decided to jump off the bandwagon to join other parties. The situation was even made worse by the fact that the party was dealt a serious blow in the last professional elections, where it only won 49 seats (out of 2230) in all chambers (i.e. commerce, agriculture, services, industry, fishing, etc.), thus losing 147 seats of the total it won in the previous professional elections. This shows that the ruling party has lost much of the popularity it enjoyed in 2015. This may be interpreted as an indicator of what is going to happen in the September elections.

A few months before the upcoming elections, Moroccan authorities changed the way of calculating electoral quotient, so that seats should be distributed based on the number of registered voters, rather than numbers of actual voters. Proponents of this new method believe that it will increase the odds of smaller parties, which, will mean more variety in the parliament, and help enhance democracy in Morocco. By contrast, some of the JDP leaders expressed refusal of this new method, casting doubts on its legitimacy as, according to them, it is meant to limit the role of Islamic parties in the Moroccan political life, if not to prevent them from winning the elections again. Some said that this new method will cost JDP about 30 seats in the upcoming elections. Some analysts said that JDP leaders’ insistence on resisting these changes can be understood in the light of the fact that they have always made use of people’s abstention, which helped them won the majority of seats in 2011 and 2016.

External Effects

Like many Islamic parties and movements in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, Morocco’s JDP greatly benefited from the so-called ‘Arab spring’. The party managed to achieve good results in the elections held following the approval of the 2011 constitution which enhanced the authority of PMs and legislative institutions and granted citizens and groups more freedom and rights. There are many reasons for this success, the most important of which is that the Moroccans wanted to ‘try a new political ingredient’, so to speak. Other reasons include the lack of powerful rivals at the time as well as the disappointment of  Moroccan youth, which made them look forward to the success of the Islamists who adopted promising slogans in the face of the many political, economic and social problems in Morocco.

JDP also benefited from propaganda disseminated by Islamists in other countries about their being marginalized and treated unfairly. As these non-Moroccan Islamists managed to assume authority, JDP leaders were encouraged to accept the rules of the game and take part in the political scene in their country. However, this general Islamist-friendly atmosphere also harmed Islamic movements, including JDP, as it resulted in overconfidence, and consequently led to huge mistakes that were regarded as indications that these movements and parties may seek to impede democratic practices which helped them assume power in the first place.

Islamists’ rise to power in many countries eventually detracted from their popularity, as it gave citizens a chance to see them ‘at work’ after years of talk. People realized that Islamists are no different from other parties; rather, they can be sometimes less efficient than non-Islamists. It turned out that Islamists were not accurate when they claimed that they had simple solutions to the complicated problems of the countries of the Middle East.

Decline in Islamists’ popularity in Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria has given rise to questions about the implications of such changes for the political future of the Islamic JDP. In Egypt, Muslim Brothers made many mistakes that culminated in their fall in 2013. In Algeria, Islamists failed to win the legislative election held in June, and therefore did not form the cabinet. As political, social and economic problems (let alone problems in the health sector) worsened in Tunisia, President Kais Saied decided on July 25 to freeze the parliament and lift MPs’ immunity. He also dismissed Prime Minister Hicham Mechichi, before accusing the Ennahda Movement of conspiring with foreign countries to encroach on the hegemony of Tunisia.

Unclear forecast

Despite the aforementioned challenges, some believe that JDP may surprise everyone, especially as most, if not all, of the parties competing in the elections are not powerful or popular enough, and have little experience of democratic practices. Besides, we must not forget that many strong parties, such as Independence Party and Unified Socialist Party, have lost much of their popularity over the past three decades on account of internal conflicts which they failed to deal with in a democratic way, and pressures resultant from engaging with other parties in previous cabinets. JDP benefited from these points of weakness in the previous elections.

However, it is noteworthy that there are some parties which, though few in number, still can compete effectively. A case in point is the National Rally for Independents Party, led by businessman and agriculture minister Aziz Akhannouch. Another is the Authenticity and Modernity Party, which, under its new leader Abdellatif Wahbi, proved to be a worthy rival of JDP in the last general and legislative elections. Even the possibility that Independence Party may succeed cannot be entirely ruled out, led by former minister Nizar Baraka, the party exerted much effort in the past few years to pull itself together and deal with its internal problems effectively. Analysts believe that voters will most probably not choose JDP as a way of retribution. This is even more likely because the numbers of voters are expected to be greater than usual. It is known that candidates always benefited from the low turnout, as they resorted to illegal methods to win previous elections, such as bribing voters to tip the scales in their own favour.

Many analysts predict that JDP will be less successful than usual in major Moroccan cities, such as Casablanca, Marrakech, Rabat, Fes, Meknes and Tangier, because of the new method of calculating electoral quotient.

In the final analysis, it can be said that there are indicators that can help predict something about the destiny of JDP in the upcoming elections. For one thing, failed attempts to put slogans into practice resulted in JDP falling short of voters’ expectations. After years of entrenching itself as an oppositional force, JDP suddenly had to leave its safe place to play the role of the executive power. Its readiness was put to the test, and so was its ability to fall back on its basic tenets to deal with the many challenges Morocco is facing, which, it turned out, require more ‘up-to-date’ policies. Besides, crises in several Arab countries led by Islamists negatively affected the status of Islamic parties in general, as the need for more rational strategic planning has been strongly felt in these countries. These factors are more than likely to detract from JDP’s popularity.  

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations as well as a Master's degree in international security studies, alongside a passion for web development. During my studies, I gained a strong understanding of key political concepts, theories in international relations, security and strategic studies, as well as the tools and research methods used in these fields.

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