Moroccan voters head to the polls to decide fate of ruling Islamists

The moderate Islamist PJD is hoping to win a third term in power

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Voters streamed to polling stations across Morocco to cast their ballots on Wednesday, as elections began under new rules expected to make it harder for the Islamist PJD party to stay in power.

Mask-wearing added to the contrast between Wednesday’s vote and previous parliamentary, regional and local elections.

Interior Minister Abdelouafi Laftit said the elections were proceeding as normal.

The PJD, or Justice and Development Party, is expected to lose ground to its more pro-establishment rivals, the RNI and PAM parties, which define themselves as social democrats.

The new voting rules, seen by PJD leaders as having been introduced specifically to target their majority, change the way seats are allocated, making it harder for large parties to gain many seats.

With campaigning not allowed on election day, polling stations were calm as voters keen to avoid the scorching midday sun cast their ballots in the morning.

The main contenders for Morocco's next prime minister were among those casting their ballots early, including former Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane, who voted in Rabat, and RNI leader Aziz Akhannouch, who voted in Agadir.

Aziz Akhannouch casts his ballot in Agadir. AFP

Footage of these figures calling on Moroccans to participate in the elections have dominated Moroccan media since the start of the vote.

But some of those who voted did not need convincing.

“Voting is a national duty. Although the election process has so far not succeeded in fixing conditions for young people like me by providing job opportunities and proper education, I still have hope,” said 35-year-old Hamza Elhamoudi, who is unemployed.

Official estimates show that unemployment has risen by 2.5 per cent during the first quarter of 2021, with over 1.5 million jobless people in Morocco.

“I cannot waste this opportunity to change the future. That’s why I am casting my ballot in this election,” said 31-year-old journalist Mahmoud Harouak, who is also a member of the Party of Progress and Socialism.

But for 30-year-old Achraf El Malhouf, who is a member of the ruling PJD, it is continuity rather than change that will lead to a better future for Morocco.

“Only a party or two have a feasible ambitious programme. If the Justice and Development Party leads the results, we will be able to continue reforms,” he said.

The PJD is seeking to win the election to lead the government for a third term after winning the parliamentary polls in 2011 and 2016.

There are 1,704 party lists, made up of 6,815 candidates, competing in the local, regional and parliamentary elections taking place today with the presence of 4,500 observers representing 40 NGOs.

The Ministry of Interior said the turnout was around 12 per cent, in a statement issued at noon.

Though the elections went ahead without disruption, some voters complained that voting rules had made casting ballots difficult.

Ilham Bendouich, 21, a law student, said: “I can’t vote until I finish [work] in the late afternoon. But I have to go back to where I live, which is far from where I work, as I can only vote in the polling station where I am registered.

“I hope the government will ease these conditions to allow more people to vote,” she said.

This article was written in collaboration with Egab.

Updated: September 08, 2021, 5:18 PM