Gaming Election Day, November 25th.

07.09.2011 | Zouhair Baghough |

Published on Moorish Wanderer Blog

For all the razzmatazz going on about the election, it is safe to say that little is likely to change when it comes to actual electoral campaigning. The truth is, the only political power with complete mastery of the demographics, gender and income distribution is, and remains, the MI (Ministry of the Interior) first because it is near impossible to get hold of precise data, and second, and unless it can be proven indeed, there is little incentive on behalf of MI officials to release it on public outlets (if not outright withholding intent) and how could a modern political party conduct a modern electoral campaign if even the basic data is lacking, or needs to be extracted from its reluctant source? Knowledge is power they say, and that holds particularly true for Morocco.

Fortunately, paper sources do make up for the shortfall in electronic references (and I really do wish that Open Data initiative championed by minister A.R.Chami was carried out to deliver some genuinely relevant information, instead of providing chicken pea…) and B.L. Garcia’s exhaustive survey of Moroccan elections since 1960 does provide those tables necessary to paint a picture of the various constituencies and swing voters that have shaped -and most likely continue to this day- elections, whether local or general.

I had the opportunity earlier to point out that never in the history of Morocco, has one single party managed to secure absolute majority in one or both houses: 1963 was the closest thing to a majority coalition -and only by 49%, hardly a landslide and to the tune of an independent MP (Member of Parliament, not to be confused with FDIC component Mouvement Populaire) who joined in out of opportunism. Form then on, never did a party take full control of parliament (as we shall have the opportunity to observe later on) And so goes the prediction for the next election: there will be no PJD or PAM landslides; Front de Défense des Institutions Constitutionnelles (FDIC) coalition, failed to secure even absolute majority, only 69 seats out of 141 and 32.4% of votes, a result only topped by the independent surge in 1977. Constituencies were designed so as to favour FDIC candidates over Istiqlal-UNFP opposition, with the former allocated about 16,000 large constituencies per seat, while the latter had to compete for approximately 25,000 large ones. That explains the outrageous discrepancies between percentage of popular votes and allotted seats. Nonetheless, opposition parties had a strong showing, considering the awful electoral campaign and the aftermath of showdown over the constitution a couple of months earlier (December 1962)

The demographics tell their tales too: FDIC base constituency was at 85.7% made up of farmers (60.7%) and private-sector small employees (25%). Rémy Leveau coined the expression “The Moroccan Fellah (farmer), defender of the throne” to refer to the exceptionally high, exceptionally stable and staunch turnout and vote in favour of ‘administrative’ parties (FDIC, RNI, PND, etc…) Of all parties, UNFP was the one with the most diverse constituency, a balanced sample across all professions; but because rural areas made up about half the total electoral corps, and because its share of rural voters did not go beyond 15%, UNFP could not perform better, certainly when compared to the stronger Istiqlal showing in the rural constituencies. Overall, candidates were expected to win with large margins in smaller, rural constituencies than when competing in urban ones. That explains why independents enjoyed an over-representation:  rural voters in Tetuan, Fez and Casablanca made up half their of their larger, more rural constituencies than nationwide mean.

the geographical pattern vindicates the claim that rural areas are either coerced or bribed into voting for pro-regime candidates: out of the 18 administrative provinces (including Rabat and Casablanca districts) at the time, 4 were carried by FDIC with strong margins (including a 100% vote in Terfaya) in the North (Nador and Alhuceimas) the Eastern desert (Warzazate) and the rural regions of Hauz, Gharb and Chrarda – amalgamated in the Marrakesh and Casablanca provinces. Conversely, UNFP-Istiqlal opposition made a very strong showing by carrying cities -Casablanca and Rabat districts- as well as the Tangiers province. These have come out in favour of UNFP by an average of 46.3% of popular votes, while Istiqlal carried Meknes, Rabat and Oujda provinces with similar margins, and UNFP candidates also fared much better in Agadir with a 49% of popular votes.

The claim that key voters in Morocco are the rural population is vindicated by the first general elections, because their registration rate is higher than that of urban dwellers -even higher than national average- and their voting pattern is remarkably stable across time, even with fluctuating boundary changes; They remain a significant bloc of votes ‘dissident’ parties (UNFP, Istiqlal, or even PJD) have failed to control for many reasons that are to be discussed later on.

After King Hassan II has lifted the state of emergency in 1970 – with the promulgation of a new constitution the 1977 and 1984 elections rather confirmed what will become the trademark of any general election: local notabilities, whether in urban or semi-urban areas are swing voters and can deliver super-majorities (usually to pro-regime candidates) whenever needed: in 1977, USFP Premier Abderrahim Bouabid lost to Ahmed Ramzi, an independent candidate (who went on to be a Habus Minister in the Osman government) with a landslide 83.44% victory to the latter in Agadir district – a socialist stronghold at the time.

Though administrative interference had a lot to do with the systematic majorities independent or pro-regime party candidates had recorded during these elections, the critical variables to take into account is rather how well did local notabilities control constituents, and how they channelled these votes to support a candidate over another. This explains the independents’ landslide in 1977, and the momentum PND party (a rural breakaway from RNI in April 1981) gained in the 1980s. Both had a strong showing in rural constituencies: in 1977, the independents (later on, RNI representatives) carried constituencies such as Settat (6/7) Casablanca (7/20) Jedida (5/6) Taza (5/6) and Tiznit (all 4 seats) these constituencies are mainly rural. The same applies to MP party with its rural constituencies in Khemissat (2/4) and Nador (3/5).

1977 was also the election of Western Sahara constituencies, one seat each for Smara and Bojdor (Istiqlal carried both of them, but the Sahrawi representatives it had endorsed eventually defected in 1979 and joined Polisario) The Sahrawi constituency shared with the rural ones all the hallmarks of notabilities’ electioneering: the program matters very little, and only the candidate’s local connections, wealth and personal charisma -as well as personal loyalty to the regime- made a difference. On the other end of the constituency-types, educated voters and small employees in urban areas and large cities were prone to vote USFP or PPS more often than others. Although it has been pointed out that higher degrees-earners also tend not to vote; in short, USFP and PPS shared in 1977 and 1983, a population of educated people, with degrees varying from basic primary education certificate to high school diploma. College and University graduate, though general sympathetic to left-leaning themes, did not partake in voting during elections, as their successive turnouts tend to vindicate their apparent rejection of the whole electoral process.

The 1984 turnout has a peculiar property no other election before or after has featured: the discrepancy between cast vote ans effective popular vote. If one is to indulge into a joke, the Interior ministry felt so comfortable that even official figures do not account for, say, OADP candidates who managed to gather 70,637 votes, but were allocated only 32,766 votes instead. On the other hand, MPDC carried only 15,052 votes, but was credited with 69,862 instead. UC (20,407) MP (32,945) and PND (20,407) also benefited from a boost. USFP, on the other hand received its ‘fair’ share of votes. UC candidates won with landslide majorities in many regions, the Atlantic agricultural plains, the North all over the Rif mountains and land-locked constituencies in Khouribga. It is worth pointing out that particularly Essaouira, Tiznit, Skhirat and Salé had UC super-majorities with more than 50% of popular votes. RNI and MP parties also fared better, respectively carrying Tangiers, Tata and Sidi Kacem, as well as Ifrane, Khemissat and Warzazate. As such, and save for party switch from RNI to UC, there was little change over the larger rural constituencies who came out for the Triumvirate UC-MP-RNI, as they collected about 60.45% of seats, and 58% of popular votes.

1993 did not carry significant changes, indeed, Bernabé Garçia reports:

“It appears from the new political map that there are no significant changes since 1963, and the only new information it carries confirms the predictability of its outcome. Abstentia reached 37.25%, i.e. some 5 points above the recorded level in 1984. A high record of annulled ballots was also observed, some 930,000 votes, i.e. 8.16% of total electoral corps, and 13.01% of voters, compared to respectively 7.5% and 11.1% in 1984. While eligible voters amounted to 12,670,000 the electoral census registered only 11,398,997 voters, which means that about 1.25Million Moroccan were not registered, a figure 10% larger than those who had their ballots annulled. In short, one Moroccan out of two was prevented from voting, either by not registering or by destroying the vote they cast.

As for Koutla votes (Istiqlal-USFP 25.4% PPS 3.9% and OADP 3.1%) they amounted to 32.5% meaning that one voter out of three endorsed the change Koutla leaders have been calling for. These figures only show the lack of substantial changes compared to previous elections [In 1984, the Koutla carried some 31.1% of popular votes] B.L. Garçia – Translated in Arabic by B. Kharazi p.244-245 Ed. Difaf. 2009

The swing vote however was on specific constituencies, especially with landslide defeats UC incurred, but the margins remained, overall, unchanged.

1997 elections coincided with the “Alternance Consensuelle” and the new 1997 local government bill that created regions and regional councils, and thus redesigned constituency boundaries; Because of it, the electoral map was even more fragmented than before; a winning party gathered on average 24% of votes, hardly a stable or strong majority. This average goes down in large urban centres – Casablanca had an Istiqlal majority with 15% of the votes, while USFP carried Rabat with 13.4% of popular votes. The largest majority (48%) was recorded in Mohammedia, by independent candidates, a rebuker of party machine and yet another evidence that only personal connexion and wealth matter in the success or failure for a parliamentary candidate. Overall, rural constituencies remained under MP-PND-MDS-Independents control, and the number of political parties doubled from 7 to 15 and subsequently, large parliamentary conferences grew weaker and shrunk in size: in 1993, a 50% majority was insured with the seats of three parties. In 1997,  5 parties were needed to insure that majority. In these conditions, the coalition government was necessarily a patchwork of unlikely allies, with RNI and Istiqlal joining in even though they both had government experience since 1977.

In terms of popular votes, Istiqlal ranked first with 1.4 Million votes, but USFP, even with a lower turnout (1.02 Million votes) ranked first in terms seats (respectively 56 and 31) which created some frictions over who gets the Premiership for the transitional government.

2002 were the first elections held under King Mohamed VI, and to Koutla parties, it was a test to the transitional period they have agreed upon to carry out. Furthermore, between 1997 and 2002, the number of political parties increased further from 16 to 26 (at least those represented in parliament) a further fragmentation of the electoral map, since many of those managed to scrap 25 seats away from the incumbent candidates, but failed to secure more than two or three seats each. The effect of smaller constituencies may have prompted would-be candidates and politicians to organize themselves in smaller political parties and contest elections with the only strategy to carry one or two targeted seats; The fragmentation also led to increased competitiveness over the 70 provinces, yet this resulted in stalemates all over the political map of Morocco: only 18 out of 70 provinces recorded majorities large enough for a party to carry two seats, a sign of weak majorities even though some seats managed to carry large majorities: Essaouira, Aousserd, Benslimane, Marrakesh, Oued-Daha, Khenifra and Kenitra all delivered a large margins, with the first candidate putting themselves ahead with double the votes the second winner carried. However, this does not always mean large majorities in absolute terms; indeed, 1735 competing lists (an average of 26 per constituency) ensured small majorities, and effective small margins of victory. Indeed, even though USFP carried Agadir with  a large margin compared to the second and third parties (respectively, MP and PJD) it has collected less than 45% of the votes. The same goes for PJD at Casablanca- Derb Al Fida – Ain Sultan: they have collected only 28% of popular votes

Though 2007 was trumpeted as ‘PJD coronation’ all parties actually lost votes compared to previous elections. This is due to the exceptionally low turnout observed during these elections (37%) during which no party exceeded half a million of popular votes. Compared to 2002, PJD candidates lost some 92,000 votes, a smaller loss when compared to USFP and Istiqlal candidates’ – respectively 309,000 and 103,000 votes. An electoral catastrophe in which one party does slightly less worse than others is hardly a sign of political endorsement.

Furthermore, margins of victory narrowed significantly, as winning candidates, on average did not carry more than 10% of popular votes; with the notable exceptions of Sahrawi and Eastern constituencies, margins of victory rarely went above 14%, a very low number indeed, considering the low turnout.

As for political implications, PJD has formalized its takeover of formerly USFP strongholds: Casablanca, Rabat and the outskirts of Agadir transferred votes from 1997 to 2007, and that is particularly true for middle-class, college-educated voters who prefer either to boycott the whole electoral process, or to simply vote PJD instead of USFP. USFP candidates, on the other hand, changed from urban centres to rural districts, mainly in the Sahrawi provinces and the North Atlantic coast. MP candidates, on the other hand, benefited from the reunification of Haraka spin-offs (UD, MNP, MDS) to take back control of Mountainous rural districts in the Atlas and the rural hinterland surrounding Rabat.

Now that these numbers have been laid out, it is possible to predict some voting patterns for the 2011 Elections, essentially based on a crucial swing vote, i.e. the Youth. This variable political parties did not (and amazingly enough, still don’t) take into account explains the high discrepancy between youth turnout and overall population. Nationwide, one Moroccan out of three eligible to vote is less than 24 years old. And yet, These make up for only 9% . In some constituencies, youth vote would not only determine the outcome of an election otherwise ‘locked-in’ in favour of one candidate, but deliver substantial majority, if they were to display homogeneous voting patterns.

The electoral gaming goes as follows: considering the high proportion of youth in particular districts, their turnout is critical to shaping results and delivering stable majorities not only to candidates, but also to political parties in parliament house that could result into carrying a stable majority coalition and thus, a stable government.

2007 recorded 4.65 Million effective cast votes. Assuming the percentage of rejected ballots is close to the 40-years average (that is, 14.37%) and assuming equally an average turnout vote, i.e. 65%, total turnout would reach about 16 Million registered and effective voters. 41% of these are 30years-old and less, with 20% overall first-time voters. In short, the younger population not only delivers swing votes, but changes the complete electoral map of a number of regions. We consider the following districts with a high youth percentage: Grand-Casablanca, Marrakesh, Agadir and Tangiers. These account for roughly one-third of total current number of seats, and can yield up to 1.2Million young voters. In many of these districts, their vote can arbitrage between neck-and-neck majorities, especially in large urban centres, the very same cities that observed high rates of abstention in 2007.

Since the selected districts account for 25% of all young voters eligible for registration, it is obvious that a homogeneous vote can theoretically deliver a 50% plus majority to a pre-electoral coalition. This holds particularly true whether small constituencies like Aousserd, Bojdor or Smara, are involved, or relatively larger ones like Alhuceimas, Beni-H’ssen or Chefchaouen. Because their 20-30 account for one-third of likely voters, they can carry 19 seats (or 980,000) with a majority of their own.

The assumption behind this finds its origin in the weak absolute majorities political parties hold in these districts: for instance, while it is true USFP candidates carried a relatively large number of votes in Agadir city, they have failed to capture an overall majority of registered voters, let alone likely or eligible voters. Because of this under-valuation of youth vote, the electoral system matters very little as long as the 20-30 (and first-time voters a little above 18) register and vote in favour of one party or bloc of political parties gathered in a stable electoral coalition. In tight races like in Rabat, or Casablanca, or Tangiers-Tetuan-Larache, they can deliver substantial majorities to candidates they consider fit for office.It is true local notabilities and the old system of patronage and horse-trading will continue throughout, but the number of seats allocated to ‘Old Politics’ shrinks significantly, provided young voters are not coerced into voting one way or the other. In short, the rural vote might very well give way to the young vote, a more unpredictable variable when it comes to actual vote counting. Their vote will not bring only one party to power, but they can provide a small coalition (say no more than 4 parties like the Koutla, or the new UC-RNI-PAM alliance) with enough votes and seats to control the house.

But the gaming has a catch: it further assumes alacrity on behalf young voters, with the renewed interest in political affairs able to translate itself into high turnout vote, and homogeneous selection of political parties. Never since 1963 political parties were given the opportunity to gather large support in their bid for office. Let us only hope they will accept to allocate effective partisan power to their young supporters.

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