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06RABAT48 2006-01-10 15:50:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Rabat
Cable title:  

PJD'S OTHMANI ON PARTY SPLIT, WESTERN SAHARA, 2007

Tags:   KISL PGOV PREL MO 
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1. (C) Summary: During a January 6 meeting with Emboffs,
Islamist Party for Justice and Development (PJD) Secretary
General Saad Eddin Othmani Othmani downplayed the reported
split within the PJD describing it as a handful of
individuals the party wanted to get rid of. He highlighted
the party's activism on the Western Sahara detailing a
conference the PJD will host in March to explore various
autonomy options, and focused on the 2007 elections, for
which the key element will be the passage of a new electoral
code to bring it into line with the political party law.
Emboffs also discussed with Othmani the possibility of an
international visitor leadership program (IVLP). Othmani has
never travelled to the U.S., but was selected by the Embassy
IVLP committee to participate in the program. End summary.

Party Split: No Effect on the PJD
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2. (SBU) Continuing dialogue with Moroccan Islamists, Poloff
and PAS officers met January 6 with Islamist PJD Secretary
General Saad Eddin Othmani. Othmani dismissed the importance
of what has been termed in the press as a "split" within the
PJD, with the establishment of new Islamist party El Yaqadha
Wal Fadhila (Renaissance and Virtue Party). Othmani said
that only two individuals (including Mohamed El Khaldi from
the eastern Moroccan city of Oujda) had recently left the PJD
to establish the new party and that previously only four to
five PJD members had left. These people were already on the
"margins" of the party and therefore their departure would
have "no effect" on the PJD. Indeed, according to Othmani,
the party was glad to be rid of these elements and this was
the best possible outcome. While they posed "no competition"
to the PJD, competition within the political context is a
good thing, emphasized Othmani.

Western Sahara: PJD Ready to Play a Role
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3. (SBU) The PJD plans to convene a conference on the Western
Sahara in Rabat at the beginning of March. This conference,
originally scheduled to be held in early January, had been
postponed in order to invite experts from countries which
have had autonomy-sharing experiences, such as Spain, Germany
and Belgium, according to Othmani. While the King had
recently called for increased political party participation
in the determination of the Western Sahara, Othmani said his
party had been active on this issue for at least the past
year. Pulling out a speech he had given in March 2005 on the
Sahara, Othmani emphasized that the PJD believed that a new
division of the country into six or seven regions (vice the
current 16), each with its own regional government to govern
local affairs, including for the Sahara region, would
facilitate autonomy for the Western Sahara. The prerogatives
given to these newly formed regions should be broadly
expanded. Of course, this would require a constitutional
amendment. This issue was widely discussed at the recent PJD
general secretariat meeting held December 31-January 1 and a
more detailed proposal would be presented at the March
conference.

2007 Elections: PJD Primed for Participation
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4. (SBU) Following parliament's passage of the political
party law in December 2005, Othmani said there was a rush to
establish more political parties, creating the opposite
effect of what had been expected. These four or five parties
were trying to register themselves before the party law
becomes official by being registered in the Official
Bulletin. In general, political parties in Morocco are the
"weakest point" of the democratic system in Morocco and need
development, according to Othmani. The new party law should
serve to increase representation, internal democracy and
transparency in such issues as decision-making and party
finances, all causes the PJD supports.



5. (SBU) While passage of the political party law was
important, according to Othmani, the most critical element to
ensure fair elections in 2007 will be electoral code reform.
A requirement to receive a minimum of five percent of the
national vote to be represented in Parliament must be
instituted in order to rationalize the system and produce a
more "coherent" outcome. There are currently 17 or 18
parties represented in Parliament. If the five percent rule
in the electoral code was adopted, there would only be 7 or 8
parties represented in the lower house. The disappearance of
ten political parties would not be a big loss for Morocco,
according to Othmani. However, the state needs the
"political courage" to make these major political decisions.
The King had said that this law should be voted on a year
before the 2007 elections, so it "should probably" be done,
according to Othmani. He hoped, however, that the government
was "up to the task." The PJD had prepared a position paper
which they would present soon to the government on the issue.




6. (SBU) Gearing up for the 2007 elections, the PJD is
currently planning to undertake a caravan in five different
regions, not yet determined, to begin campaigning. Indeed,
meeting Moroccans resident in the U.S., said Othmani, will be
important due to the fact that they will likely be eligible
to vote in the 2007 elections and will need to be motivated
to do so. Othmani offered that it was possible that the
government would ask the PJD to join its ranks following the
upcoming elections. When asked whether he was ready to serve
as Prime Minister should his party join the government,
Othmani grinned and said, "one is never ready enough."

Visit to the U.S. A First for PJD Leader
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7. (SBU) Emboffs raised with Othmani his possible
participation in an IV program. As Othmani was unable to
commit to a full three-week program and had already been
invited to the U.S. by the Center for the Study of Islam and
Democracy (CSID) in early May, PAS pledged to research the
possibility of a Voluntary Visitor program for Othmani
directly following the CSID conference. Editor-in-Chief of
PJD-affiliated Arabic daily Al-Tajdid and Humphrey Fellow
currently in Washington Mustafa Khalfi had made numerous
recommendations for a program for the PJD SYG. Based on
Khalfi's advice, Othmani said he wished to meet politicians,
academics and Moroccans resident in the U.S., particularly in
New York, Boston and Washington. In meeting with
Arab-American and Islamic American groups in the U.S.,
Othmani said that he would be happy to speak on a topic such
as "Challenges of Reform and Development in Morocco."



8. (SBU) While Othmani has never been to the U.S., he said he
had traveled extensively within the past month, visiting
Belgium, Italy, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The PJD plans to
convene a conference on U.S.-Arab relations and American
lobbying at the end of March, to which several American
experts and the Embassy would be invited.

Comment
- - - -


9. (C) Once again, the PJD is ahead of the curve vis-a-vis
most other political parties when it comes to the 2007
elections -- beginning their campaigning early (including
targeting the Moroccans abroad). While Othmani declined to
respond directly as to whether he is ready to become Prime
Minister, the fact that he raised the possibility that his
party would be asked to join the government in 2007 seems to
suggest that he is becoming more and more comfortable with
this eventuality. Conventional wisdom indicates that if the
PJD is allowed to fully compete throughout the country, they
could walk away with the elections. If indeed Othmani
becomes PM, the timing of a visitor program for him to the
U.S. couldn't be better. End comment.
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Riley