Middle East

Referendum win likely short-term endorsement for Moroccan king

RABAT: Moroccan voters’ endorsement of a new constitution may provide only a short-term boost for King Mohammad if concrete change is not delivered to silence the country’s growing protest movement.

The new constitution, drafted by a royal-appointed committee, retains much of the king’s current power and was endorsed last week by 98.5 percent of the 9.7 million who voted.

Opponents point out that more than 10 million eligible voters stayed away from the polling stations, either because of a boycott or lack of interest.

“The referendum has certainly yielded a symbolic victory for the king, even temporarily,” said Jean-Baptiste Gallopin of London-based Control Risks Group.

“The results show that the Moroccan population is deeply divided on the current situation.”

King Mohammad, 47, has committed to hand over some of his powers to elected officials after a referendum viewed in other Arab monarchies as a test case on whether reform can hold back the wave of Arab Spring uprisings sweeping the region.

While it explicitly reinforces the powers of both the government and parliament, the charter gives the king the right to veto any strategic decisions and powers that supersede the government in security and military matters, and the judiciary.

Thousands of people responded Sunday to another call for protest by the “February 20” opposition movement, which was inspired by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt and is pushing for greater reform in a country with moribund political parties, high illiteracy and wide income gaps.

“The referendum is actually a trap for the state,” said Najib Chawki, a Rabat-based activist with the group. “It will not be able to implement what the new constitution brings, just as it had not been able to do so with previous constitutions.”

The opposition will continue its almost weekly protests for a separation of powers and a crackdown on graft, Chawki said.

“February 20,” named after the date of its first protest, is a leaderless and loose national network that has managed to cobble together an unlikely alliance of Islamists and secular leftists around demands for a parliamentary monarchy.

Its call for a boycott of the referendum were echoed by one of Morocco’s biggest trade unions, the Democratic Labour Confederation (CDT), the banned Justice and Spirituality Islamist group and three small left-wing parties.

While it has not garnered the massive support seen in Egypt and Tunisia, the opposition has produced Morocco’s biggest anti-government protests in decades, impressive in a country where activism has focused on social issues.

Morocco’s social woes are even worse than Tunisia’s: nearly a third of those under 35 are jobless and millions more are stuck in poverty without access to basic public services.

The success of the new constitution will depend on its ability to address social and economic problems, Abdellah Saaf, a member of the committee that drafted the new charter, wrote in a recent column in French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur.

“Pressure by protests may continue to spread” and the key challenge for Moroccan authorities, he said, was to avoid violence and delays in implementing elements of the new charter.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 08, 2011, on page 9.

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