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Ruling Islamist party beats liberals in Morocco elections

Abdelilah Benkirane's Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) won 125 seats out of 395. Photograph: (AFP)

AFP Rabat, Rabat-Sale-Zemmour-Zaer, Morocco Oct 08, 2016, 01.55 PM (IST)

The Islamist party which has headed Morocco's coalition government since the Arab Spring-inspired protests five years ago has beaten liberal rivals in parliamentary elections, results showed on Saturday. The Islamist party won 125 seats out of 395, while the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM), which had campaigned against the "Islamisation" of Moroccan society won 102 seats.

Morocco Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane's Islamist party has beaten its main rival, the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM), the interior ministry said after the ballots were counted. The two parties have ruled out joining forces in a grand coalition, international news agency, the AFP reports.

The Istiqlal or the Independence Party, which historically fought for independence from France, came third with 45 seats. About 43 per cent of the people --- roughly 6,750,000 voters --- participated in the elections, interior minister Mohamed Hassad told the press in the capital Rabat. 

The ballot paper was marked with symbols of the 30 contesting parties to make life easier for the illiterate, who constitute a third of the country's population.

Hassad rejected accusations of voter fraud from both sides, saying that the election was "transparent" and had gone well. The PJD had also said in a statement that it was "very concerned about numerous reports of fraud being carried out by authorities" in favour of the PAM, and had asked the interior ministry to "urgently intervene". The party apparently filed a complaint after a video of a man stuffing a ballot box found its way on social networking sites. 
PAM spokesman Khalid Adennoun had also said that his party had filed "50 complaints" of voting irregularities , some concerning the PJD in Tangiers, the AFP reported. The local media carried reports of an Islamist candidate being attacked and wounded outside a polling station in Rabat.

Meriem, a voter in her 40s, told AFP after casting her ballot in central Rabat, "I came to carry out my duty as a citizen. Our Morocco needs a healthy democracy."

The real power, however, will remain in the hands of monarch King Mohammed VI, whose family has ruled Morocco country since the last 350 years. Under the 2011 constitution, the king appoints a prime minister from the biggest party in parliament once the election results have been announced.

The PJD came to power in 2011 after massive protests against the monarchy inspired by the Arab Spring Revolution in 2010 which subsequently led to the fall of autocratic regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.  A new constitution transferred some of the king's powers to the parliament.

The party has followed a relatively liberal economic policy while in power and also passed a controversial reform of the retirement system.

An unstable world economy, a drought that hit Morocco's key agricultural sector leading to low economic growth and rising unemployment have complicated things for the party. As has been a failure to tackle corruption as promised in 2011.

A string of scandals within the party including a drugs bust, a land-grab deal and the suspension of two vice presidents found in a "sexual position" on a beach have not helped either.

The opposition, PAM, had  hoped to take advantage of this situation in the polls, spearheading its campaign on a criticism of the government's "catastrophic" economic record and also promising to roll back the "Islamisation" of society. Headed by Ilyas El Omari, the party was formed in 2008 by a close adviser to the king, 

Several parties have fielded ultra-conservative Salafists, a sign that Islamists are becoming a feature of Moroccan politics, the AFP reports.

(WION with inputs from AFP)

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