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06RABAT565 2006-03-30 16:41:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Rabat
Cable title:  

MOROCCO'S POLITICAL PARTIES: LAPDOGS OR DEMOCRATS?

Tags:   PGOV PREL KDEM MO 
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1. (C) Summary: The series of splits, mergers, and coups
that have dotted Morocco's already fractured political
landscape since November 2005 attest to the fact that
posturing for the 2007 parliamentary elections is in full
swing. They also speak volumes about the force that King
Mohammed VI's words about the direction of Morocco's
political development play out within the political
establishment. The King, whom the constitution endows with
supreme power over all political matters, sets the tone and
defines the limits for Moroccan political parties. His
repeated calls since 2004 for a rationalization of the
"Balkanized" political landscape culminated in parliament's
passing in December 2005 of an Interior Ministry-drafted law
on political parties that restricts public funding for
parties to those who win at least 5 percent of the national
vote. The new law also requires parties to practice more
democracy and ensure greater financial transparency in their
internal affairs. Of Morocco's 28 plus legally registered
parties, because of their conviction-based platforms and
comparatively stronger internal democracy, the Islamist Party
for Justice and Development (PJD) and leftist Socialist Union
of Popular Forces (USFP) appear to be the two most likely to
emerge to fulfill the King's vision of a "coherent" majority
and "constructive" opposition in 2007, assuming that
elections continue their trend of being freer and fairer than
under former King Hassan II. This cable summarizes the
institutional constraints that limit the political activities
of Morocco's leading parties and assesses each of their
strengths and weaknesses. End Summary.

Fractured Political Landscape


--------------------------





2. (SBU) During the last parliamentary elections in 2002,
which were by most accounts (including our own) the freest
and fairest in Morocco to date, 28 political parties were
officially registered at the Interior Ministry (MOI). Of the
26 that ran candidates, 22 won at least one seat in
parliament's Chamber of Representatives (lower house). The
government that was formed reflected a 6-party coalition
grouping together conservatives with the former Communist
party and including multiple political tendencies in between.
The inability of the two main victors, the USFP and the
Istiqlal Party, to agree on which should lead the government
led in part to King Mohammed's decision to appoint technocrat
and former Interior Minister Driss Jettou, who organized the
elections, prime minister.

King Urges Political Rationalization


--------------------------





3. (C) Critics point to the formation of this broad
coalition comprising parties at ideological odds with one
another as a key reason for the government's perceived
failure to create enough jobs, improve services, and educate
the population. This in turn has eroded the public's already
low confidence in the political system. It also prompted
public calls by the King, impatient with the government's
slow-footedness in carrying out his vision for the country,
for a "rationalization" of the political landscape and the
formation of "strong coalitions" and "distinctive blocs" that
compete with each other on the basis of specific development
platforms (ref A). Starting with the 2007 parliamentary
elections, these poles will vie with each other for power,
alternating control at the top, subject to the demands of
Moroccan citizens, according to the royal vision. But which
of Morocco's 28 plus officially recognized parties are best
positioned to fulfill this vision, and what are the
institutional constraints that will limit their success?

Royal Constraints


--------------------------





4. (C) Although each political formation is unique, all
Moroccan parties are subject to the same constraints inherent
to the political environment in which they operate. Despite
being led by a generally progressive, reform-minded monarch,
Morocco is a constitutional monarchy in which supreme
authority rests with the King. Political parties exist at
the King's discretion. During the reign of former King
Hassan II, the Palace fragmented the political class,
manipulated elections, co-opted or removed political
opposition, and set up new parties to undercut the
nationalist movement and encourage the development of a
multi-party system. As lower house deputy Fatna El Khiel
(Popular Movement) told Poloffs in October 2005, the "MOI is
the father of all parties" (ref B). Since his arrival in
1999, King Mohammed has granted parties more political space
and invited them to participate more in the exercise of
power.



5. (C) Yet, according to the constitution, the King still
appoints the government, presides over the Council of
Ministers, and has the authority to, at his discretion,
remove any minister, dissolve parliament, or rule by decree.
Accordingly, Morocco's traditional parties are structured to
confront the authority of the state rather than share in its
power. They are oriented to fight for democracy rather than
live it. The experience of their leaders has programmed them
to believe that power and legitimacy come from the top of the
pyramid where the King rules rather than from the bottom
where the people are. The King's steady opening has
disoriented most parties, which, wary perhaps of a possible
rollback, have not fully adjusted to the new reality. Rather
than reorienting themselves entirely toward the population,
parties instead have intensified calls for constitutional
reforms as a means to ensure that the opening is genuine and
lasting.

Weak Internal Democracy


--------------------------





6. (C) In the meantime, internally, most parties remain
undemocratic and their structures anachronistic.
Heavy-handed, aging leaders have taken possession of "their"
parties, and their individual ambitions trump the party's
collective action on behalf of the public interests it
supposedly represents. This culture creates an environment
where dissent within parties is quieted or marginalized and,
because leaders see youth and women as threats rather than
tools for restoring party legitimacy, prospective leaders are
stifled and women's access to political power is restricted.
Party structures lack a robust framework for airing disputes.
Militants who question the direction of their parties are
left with few formal mechanisms to express disagreement, and
internal revolts or party splits proliferate.

Poor Performance in Parliament


--------------------------





7. (C) Parties also suffer from the poor image that their
parliamentarians have in the eyes of the population.
Research by MEPI/USAID-funded National Democratic Institute
(NDI) shows that deputies are widely perceived as not taking
their jobs seriously and are accused of protecting their own
interests rather than representing those of citizens. The
negative perception of parliament, where deputy absenteeism
remains a serious concern, is well deserved in our view. A
paltry 68 parliamentarians (21 percent) voted in the lower
house's October 2005 vote on the political party law, for
example, and just 102 (31 percent) were present during the
November 2005 vote on the budget law, despite the fact that
these two bills were arguably the most important pieces of
legislation passed by parliament during its fall session.
According to Istiqlal executive board member and upper house
councilor Mohamed El Ansari, "only 10 percent of all deputies
can be considered legitimate public servants; we're the ones
who do all the work." Lower house deputy Ahmed Zarouf
(Popular Movement) expressed identical statements to Poloffs
in February 2006. Many deputies view their jobs as no more
than a stepping stone to one day becoming a minister.



8. (C) Another part of the problem stems from the
institutional deficiencies of parliament. Bureaucratically,
it remains subordinate to the monarchy and is the last
institution -- after the government, which proposes the bulk
of Moroccan legislation, and civil society -- to deliberate
legislation. The King reserves the right to veto any laws,
dissolve either house of parliament, and set election dates.
Deputies complain that the government is indifferent toward
the legislature and lacks respect for the prerogatives
delegated to the parliament in the area of legislative
functioning and oversight of the executive branch. They also
complain that the government, in the interests of the state,
too often gives parliament too little time to deliberate
draft laws, as was the case with U.S.-Morocco Free Trade
Agreement-related, patent/trademark and copyright legislation
passed in December 2005 (ref C). Meanwhile, the government
is slow to take action on proposed legislation that
originates in parliament. According to Moroccan press, the
government has not yet responded to 109 law proposals
("propositions de loi") that parliament has made since
October 2002.

Parties at Crossroads


--------------------------





9. (C) Stuck between a monarch calling for a democratic
reorientation of parties and a political system in which the
same monarch holds and exerts supreme power, the political
action of Morocco's leading parties -- with rare exception --
is rendered divided and ineffective. Preoccupied with the
imbalance of power between parties and the Palace, parties
expend tremendous energy and resources militating for
expansion of the competencies of parliament and a
strengthening of the prime minister's prerogatives. This
effort diverts parties' attention away from their fundamental
role as organizers of society and mouthpieces for the people,
and it exacerbates the public's perception that politicos
only care about their own interests and are out of touch with
the people, as a recent poll by the MEPI/USAID-funded
International Republican Institute found (ref C). This is
one of the reasons that the King pushed for the adoption of a
new law on political parties, passed by parliament in
December 2005, which raises the standards for internal
democracy and financial transparency in party affairs (ref
D). Only the strongest and nimblest parties will succeed in
striking this delicate balance.

Party Assessment: Popular Movement Union (70 MPs)


--------------------------



--------------------------





10. (SBU) Background: The traditionally rural Popular
Movement Union (UMP) is the product of the impending
re-constitution of Morocco's three pro-Berber parties -- the
Popular Movement (MP), National Popular Movement (MNP), and
the Democratic Union (UD) -- into one entity. The UMP will
hold its constituent congress on March 24-25, 2006.
Established in 1959, the Berber movement advocated unity
around the monarch, Islamic socialism, the recognition of
Amazigh as a national language, and opposition to the city
dwellers' monopoly on government positions and preference for
a one-party system. Despite their rural origins, the UMP
parties have made important inroads into Morocco's cities,
winning seats in Casablanca, Rabat, Sale, and Ouarzazate in
the 2003 municipal elections.



11. (C) Strengths: As the largest caucus in the lower
house, the UMP has the potential of becoming a formidable
political force. Its greatest strength lies in the
personalities of its members, many of whom are large
landowners who wield significant influence in rural
communities. UMP parties tend to enlist strong candidates
whose Berber identity appeals to voters. They are
long-standing allies of the Palace and, according to
independent weekly Le Journal, their fusion comes at the
urging of the MOI.



12. (C) Weaknesses: The UMP is very much a work in
progress. It was not until January 2006 when members of the
executive board of the UD orchestrated a revolt to overthrow
UD founder and secretary general Bouazza Ikken that UD's
support for the unified UMP was secured. (Note: The
mutineers objected to Ikken's unilateral decisionmaking and
constant waffling on the merger, according to press reports.
End Note.) The new party will have to overcome the steeply

ingrained culture of rivalry and competition that flourishes
at the base of the three formations. The UMP does what the
Palace wants, has few original ideas, is aloof concerning the
country's problems, and practices little internal democracy,
as Ikken's clumsy ouster demonstrates. Despite being formed
in 2004, the UMP caucus is undisciplined and members rarely
follow the party's orders uniformly, as occurred in the
elections for parliament speaker in April 2005 when a sizable
group of UMP deputies refused to vote for Abdelwahed Radi
(USFP) on the second ballot. As lower house deputy Zarouf
explained to Poloffs in February 2006, deputies do not join
the UMP because of a platform (which he said does not exist)
but because it is convenient. It also remains to be seen
whether MP secretary general and Minister of Agriculture
Mohand Laenser and the MNP's domineering, octogenarian leader
Mahjoubi Aherdan will be able to co-exist at the top of the
new party as, respectively, secretary general and president.

Party Assessment: Istiqlal Party (60 MPs)


--------------------------





13. (SBU) Background: Founded in 1944, the Istiqlal Party is
the patriarch of Morocco's nationalist parties. It emerged
as a result of national awareness and the need to organize
the activities of nationalists in their struggle against
French and Spanish occupation. It seeks to uphold Islamic
values and advocates democratic government. On the eve of
the 1992 parliamentary elections, it joined the Koutla
alliance, or national democratic bloc, also comprising the
USFP, Party for Progress and Socialism (PPS), and several
other parties that have since abandoned the alliance.
Working together, the alliance advocated and achieved a
re-writing of the constitution in 1996. In October 2005,
Istiqlal renewed its commitment to the Koutla and announced a
pact with USFP for the 2007 elections, despite its
long-standing, often bitter, rivalry with the leftist party,
according to Moroccan press reports.



14. (C) Strengths: Istiqlal has widespread name recognition
and a well-organized, national presence at all levels of
society. According to leader Abbas El Fassi, the party has
instituted a 20-percent quota for women at each level of its
bureaucracy and has two directly elected women
parliamentarians, the most of any party except the PJD (ref
E). It has a vibrant youth wing that meets regularly. It
boasts strong Islamic credentials, speaks out frequently in
favor of the Palestinians, and is a leading voice on
nationalist causes like the Western Sahara. It counts on the
support of organized labor, including the General Union of
Moroccan Workers (UGTM). While historically pro-monarchy, it
challenges the Palace, as illustrated by El Fassi's renewed
appeals of late for more power for parliament and the prime
minister. The party is aware of the most important social
and economic problems facing the country.



15. (C) Weaknesses: Upper house councilor El Ansari told
Poloff in December 2005 that the heads of Morocco's largest
and most influential families continue to dominate the
party's leadership structure and exert a tight grip on the
direction of the party. While party members criticize the
government and Palace behind closed doors, according to El
Ansari, they are not free to air their grievances publicly.
Wrapped up in the glory of its nationalist past, the party
has a tendency to dwell on the fruits of its struggles rather
than on the design of a new and innovative social program for
the country. Along with USFP, it is the primary target of
the PJD-led opposition's criticism of the Jettou government.
It also carries the baggage of being the pet party of
Morocco's historical Fes-based bourgeoisie, which dims its
appeal to potential supporters in the context of Morocco's
highly charged regional rivalries, according to Zarouf.

Party Assessment: Socialist Union of Popular Forces (56 MPs)


--------------------------



--------------------------





16. (SBU) Background: Founded in 1975, the USFP traces its
origins to leftist dissidents of the National Union of
Popular Forces, which split from Istiqlal in 1956. Its vocal
opposition to the government led to the arrest and conviction
of many of its members, including first secretary and
Minister of Territory Development, Water, and Environment,
Mohamed El Yazghi. Ravaged by two decades of state
oppression, it emerged in 1997 as just the second opposition
party to lead the government and the first to take the reigns
during the era of "government by alternation." The party is
a strong proponent of Morocco's democratic transition. It
seeks to rally all leftist parties around itself in a quest
to form a united socialist left. In December 2005, it
absorbed the Democratic Socialist Party (PSD) and acquired
PSD's four lower house deputies. The move isolates the
former Communist PPS and Parti Al Ahd, which with PSD had
formed the Socialist Alliance. Also in December 2005, former
secretary of state in charge of small and medium enterprises

SIPDIS
Abdelkrim Benatik left the party to create a new party,
according to press; a small group of militants reportedly
followed him.



17. (C) Strengths: The USFP has glowing credentials as a
militant for democracy. It is not afraid to battle for
change even at the price of self-sacrifice. "We have labored
for three decades," USFP caucus chair Driss Lachgar told
Poloff in 2005, "and if it takes another three to achieve the
reforms we seek then we are prepared for it." In August
2005, the political bureau set up working groups to study
social problems and recommend policy to the party, according
to press. USFP is meeting with citizen groups to hear ideas
and incorporate them into an innovative platform for 2007,
press indicates. It's modernizing its structures and,
following its June 2005 national congress, reportedly
abolished its administrative and central committees, whose
work was duplicative of the national council. It established
a 20-percent quota for women and 10 percent for youth in all
governing bodies, except the political bureau. Its caucus is
active and cohesive and its leader exerts considerable
influence in parliament. The June 2005 congress appears to
have cemented El Yazghi as party leader and Radi as his
deputy; notwithstanding Benatik's departure and some
rumblings from the youth wing, the party appears poised to
fall in line behind El Yazghi in the run-up to 2007.



18. (C) Weaknesses: USFP's public image has plummeted since
it joined the government in 1997. Now publicly regarded as a
party that has been "bought," its democratic and reform
credentials have taken a hit. A party of heady intellectuals
and academics, it has lost touch with the population since
assuming power. El Yazghi is often at odds with the youth
wing and has waged an open battle with dynamic, 42-year old
Secretary of State to the Prime Minister for Youth, Mohammed

SIPDIS
El Gahs, according to Moroccan youth leader Ahmed Ghayet and
press sources. Other intense, internal rivalries also act as
an anchor on the party's march toward a modernized and
democratic internal structure, according to Zarouf. The
creation of the Unified Socialist Party (PSU) following the
September 2005 merger of the Unified Socialist Left with the
Moroccan association Faithfulness to Democracy threatens
USFP's goal of galvanizing the left around itself. A
stronger than expected showing by the PSU in 2007 could
divide the left into two rival formations and dilute its
power in the lower house. Currently, deputies from all
leftist parties account for just some 80 of the lower house's
325 seats, or 25 percent, according to Moroccan press. This
means that the USFP will need to forge political, vice
ideological, alliances with non-leftist parties to govern
(like it has with Istiqlal), which may undercut its base.

Party Assessment: Party for Justice and Development (42 MPs)


--------------------------



--------------------------





19. (C) Background: The sole, legal Islamist party in
Morocco, the PJD was established in 1998. Representing the
union of religious hard-liners in the form of the Reform and
Unification Movement with young, urban, middle class
intellectuals and civic-minded volunteers, the party
advocates good governance, social justice, and a strong prime
minister and parliament. It opposes corruption, abuse of
power, favoritism, irrational management of public finances,
and inefficient public administration. It recognizes the
King's religious authority, unlike the semi-legal Justice and
Charity Organization. It has adopted a pragmatic and
responsible approach to assuming power. Espousing a desire
to learn how to govern in a gradual manner, the party agreed
to limit the number of districts in which it ran candidates
in the 2002 and 2003 elections but has signaled its intention
to run full-bore in 2007. In November 2005, it signed a
charter of cooperation with the liberal democratic Citizen
Forces party, which enhances its image as a moderate party
open to all partners. Secretary general Saad Eddin El
Othmani also has stated publicly that the party is
considering a possible alliance with the centrist National
Rally of Independents (RNI). In December 2005, Mohamed
Khalidi, who resigned from the party in the summer, and a
small group of former PJD militants, founded a new party
aimed at creating an alternative Islamist movement based on
openness, pluralism, dialogue, and co-existence, according to
press.



20. (C) Strengths: The PJD advocates a specific platform
and holds its members accountable to defending it in all
aspects of their political activities. Its serious and
conscientious political action is inspired by a strong,
faith-based, personal conviction. It invests heavily in
protecting its public image; its deputies take pride in
taking public transportation to attend parliamentary sessions
and often refuse to attend events where alcohol is served.
It enjoys the public perception of being a "no nonsense"
organization. It is the single most active party at the
grassroots level, especially in urban areas, and is a strong
practitioner of the politics of proximity. The PJD fines its
caucus members for missing sessions in parliament. It gives
its young militants opportunities to shine. It has a strong
record on internal democracy and has advanced the role of
women in its governing structures. (Note: The PJD caucus
has the highest percentage of women deputies than any other
party in the lower house. End Note.) According to Zarouf,
it is the only party that can accurately quantify the level
of its support in terms of number of likely votes in every
electoral district.



21. (C) Weaknesses: The party's principle weakness lies in
its religious reference. The GOM, which has warned us on
several occasions that the "Islamists are not to be trusted,"
is very suspicious of the party's real intentions should it
come to power. The May 16 terrorist bombings were a huge
test for the party. It continues to try to differentiate
itself from Islamic extremists by denouncing terrorist acts
and being on the front lines of calls for tolerance and
moderation. The public anti-alcohol and pro-hijab stands of
party hard-liners make potential supporters nervous and lend
weight to its rivals' arguments that it is too radical to be
entrusted with public administration. Although its
reputation for having strong internal democracy is well
deserved, it remains to be seen whether the behind-the-scenes
struggle between hard-liners and moderates would overly
strain the party in the event it comes to power. (Note: As
an example of this struggle, the general secretariat reversed
the party's election of hard-liner Mustapha Ramid as caucus
leader in favor of the more moderate Abdellah Baha in October


2004. In October 2005, however, the party chose Ramid to
chair the Committee on Justice, Legislation, and Human Rights
in the lower house. End Note.) Because of the Palace's
misgivings about the party and the nature of Morocco's
multi-party system, the PJD would need to seek an alliance
with another party to form the majority; any potential
partner is likely to have already been tainted by
participating in previous governments.

Party Assessment: National Rally of Independents (39 MPs)


--------------------------



--------------------------





22. (SBU) Background: RNI emerged from a caucus comprising
61 deputies elected to parliament with no party affiliation
who grouped together in 1978 after municipal and
parliamentary elections in 1976 and 1977, respectively. The
party is criticized for its close association with the
monarchy -- indeed, it is widely believed that RNI was
created by the Palace. Ex-prime minister and brother-in-law
of former King Hassan II, Ahmed Osman, has led the party
since its creation. RNI split in the 1980s, leading to the
formation of the National Democratic Party. Osman's
allegedly undemocratic management of party affairs prompted a
mini-revolt in January 2006 when, under the threat of leaving
the party, a group of deputies led by former Minister of
Human Rights Mohamed Aujjar prevailed upon the executive
board to agree to reform the party and consider a change in
leadership, according to Moroccan press. Press sources
indicate that Osman has reasserted control in recent weeks by
making concessions, including holding weekly meetings with
the executive board and establishing 16 committees to suggest
ways to reform the party. In December 2005, Osman said the
party, which had not yet been contacted by current majority
partners USFP and Istiqlal concerning 2007 elections, was
considering an alliance with the PJD, according to
Aujourd'hui Le Maroc. Lower house deputy and deputy mayor of
Rabat sister city Sale, Noureddine Lazrak, told Poloff in
November 2005 that RNI could play the role as a moderating
force in a PJD-led government.



23. (C) Strengths: Despite its dubious beginnings, the
party evolved to represent the political interests of big
business. Its main supporters and deputies still come mainly
from the ranks of Morocco's wealthiest farmers, landowners,
and bankers. RNI still has a strong presence in both houses
of parliament; its caucus in the Chamber of Councilors (upper
house) comprises 47 councilors (17 percent) and is the
largest, while its lower house caucus is the fifth largest of
seven with 39 deputies (12 percent).



24. (C) Weaknesses: Because RNI represents the interests of
privileged landowners and bankers, which are closely linked
to those of the monarchy, it has little appeal among the
masses and has no popular base, as borne out in IRI's recent
poll on popular political attitudes (ref D). Osman's
28-year-long stranglehold on the party has extinguished most
of the party's dynamism and further dimmed its appeal to its
natural power base in business circles. The party
desperately needs an infusion of new energy and a rebirth
under new leadership. Yet Osman, who in an October 2004
meeting with the Ambassador was not engaged on any of the
topics discussed and gave the impression of being aloof from
his party and disengaged from Morocco's socio-economic
realities (ref G), remains at the helm and will be difficult
to unseat (should he wish to stay), despite the recent charge
by Aujjar and company.

Other Parties


--------------------------





25. (SBU) Of Morocco's remaining parties, we assess that
only the PPS, if it were to strengthen its alliance with Al
Ahd, has any chance of surviving the 2007 elections and
weathering the storm of complying with the new party law,
which limits public funding for parties to those that win at
least 5 percent of the national vote. Former Communists, the
PPS is now a well-organized, democratic, modern party that is
in close touch with societal and political realities in
Morocco and is motivated to stay near the top. However, it
is not the most effective party at translating its ideas into
a platform and an election strategy that appeal to voters.
It will struggle to, on its own, reach the 5-percent funding
threshold in 2007. Its main weaknesses lie in a paltry voter
base and in the USFP's efforts to force its hand by isolating
it politically. USFP caucus chair Lachgar confirmed the
USFP's strategy to marginalize the PPS to Poloff in a
conversation in January 2006.

Comment


--------------------------





26. (C) We are persuaded that of Morocco's leading parties,
the PJD and USFP are in the best position to take advantage
of the political opening by King Mohammed. Each party is
politically active, connected to the population (though USFP
less so than PJD), and has a unique vision for the country.
Each appears to be individually respected by the Palace as a
formidable political force, judging by the Palace's
oppressive treatment of the USFP since the 1970s (which has
relaxed since it joined the government in 1997) and the
Moroccan Government's repeated insinuations to us about the
PJD's true intentions. Each is vocal about its desire to
strengthen parliament's powers and expand the prerogatives of
the prime minister in a tug of war with the monarchy. Both
parties have equally high hopes for the 2007 elections, but
the PJD's Islamic-framed political values gives it wider
appeal, in our view, among everyday Moroccans, 60 percent of
whom are uneducated and illiterate and therefore more prone
to the PJD's appeals to the heart than the USFP's appeals to
the intellect.
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