Wednesday, December 28, 2011

In Morocco, Pressure Increases For Benkirane To Form Government

In Morocco, Pressure Increases For Benkirane To Form Government


By Morocco News Agency Staff


Rabat, Morocco --- December 28, 2011 ... As anticipated, the recently appointed Prime Minister of Morocco, Abdelillah Benkirane and his coalition partners - Abbas El Fassi, Nabil Benabdallah and Mohand Laenser - are discovering the complexities and length of meaningful, democratic, coalition and government forming negotiations. 

Although their reaching of agreement on joint policies toward the key economic and democratic issues facing Morocco was indeed the main and most important challenge to be met, addressing and resolving the precise personnel issues are far more multi-faceted and thus lengthy undertakings. And herein the Moroccan coalition negotiations are snarled.

There is some unease in political Rabat about the prolonging of the process. Observers point out that Benkiran repeatedly expected the government composition process to be completed “soon” and so informed the media. 

A month after the November 25 parliamentary elections, political observers in Morocco are beginning to lose patience. 

At the same time, tension begins to appear among senior politicians of the four coalition parties. The aggregate impact of the unknown and the lingering personal feuds over positions and nominations is beginning to show. 

Passed-over politicians, particularly veteran local-region politicians, who had resigned to being left out of the government, are increasingly using the overall impasse to pull strings and rely on personal connections in order to make last ditch attempts to improve their lot and perhaps still get a nomination. These individual efforts further tarnish the protracted government forming process.

However, the most recent negotiations rounds in Rabat were not futile. The negotiators made significant progress in finalizing the structure of the Benkirane government. Presently, Morocco’s next government is expected to have 27 or 28 ministers instead of the 29-30 ministers originally envisaged by Benkirane.

Benkirane’s Justice and Development Party will have ten or eleven portfolios, the Independence Party will have six portfolios, and both the Popular Movement and the Progress and Socialism Party will each have four portfolios. In addition, the Government will include three “ministries of sovereignty” - the Secretariat General of the Government (SGG), the Ministry of Defense, and the Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs - that will be run by individuals of impeccable professional credentials rather than political affiliation. 

Ultimately, Benkirane is also coming under pressure from legal developments. 

Last Friday, December 23rd, eleven ministers of the outgoing government submitted their resignation to the King in order not to lose their parliamentary mandate as elected Members of the next Parliament. Law in Morocco stipulates that such resignation must be submitted within a month after the parliamentary elections. 

Driss Dahak, the current SGG, formally contacted these ministers and asked them to submit their resignation letters to the King, and the ministers were quick to follow Dahak’s instructions. This means, however, that in the absence of a new government - there are no substitute ministers for these portfolios and deputies and senior bureaucrats now act as de-facto interim ministers. This development only increases the pressure on Benkirane to complete the composition of his government. 



Sunday, December 25, 2011

As World Celebrates Christmas, Morocco Embraces Democracy, Coalition Forms

As World Celebrates Christmas, Morocco Embraces Democracy, Coalition Forms

By Morocco News Agency Staff

Rabat, Morocco --- December 25, 2011 ... On Saturday morning, December 24, Morocco’s Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane announced that major progress had been achieved in the coalition negotiations and that the specific ministerial portfolios to be allocated to the coalition’s four parties would be unveiled within the next couple of days.

“The question of allocation of portfolios should be resolved in one or two days,” Benkirane said. 

The new Prime Minister of Morocco said that he expects the pace of negotiations to accelerate because “things are more clear” for the other three coalition parties. He plans to soon name “the eligible candidates for the portfolios” for the next government. 

Benkirane expects to complete the composition of the new cabinet in Morocco in “the coming days.” Benkirane stressed that the leaders of the four parties were tackling the final touches to the government’s ministerial team. “The announcement of the new government is expected soon,” he concluded.

As expected by analysts, the coalition and government forming negotiations are proving more challenging and complex than originally anticipated by the leaders of the four coalition parties. While the key policy issues in Morocco have been agreed to and common approaches were agreed upon - inner-party squabbling continues within the leaderships of the four parties. Aspirant individuals are pulling strings to reach higher positions on the basis of their party-political past rather than professional qualifications for ministerial positions. Benkirane, however, warned all party leaders that candidate ministers must be nominated on the basis of their expertise and professional capabilities.

According to a senior official of the Justice and Development Party (PJD), the party’s leadership comprehends the position of the designated prime minister. 

“Abdelilah Benkirane wants a strong government, composed of real skills and effective democracy. The PJD knows that there are enormous challenges ahead, and many expectations to be met. All this can only be possible if the proposed ministers are effective,” the official explained. This focus on the expertise and quality of candidate ministers inevitably results in the emergence of inner-party pressure-groups that must be tackled, addressed and resolved.

The situation is not different in the other coalition parties. Abbas El Fassi, Nabil Benabdallah and Mohand Laenser are known to be under pressure to follow more narrow partisan calculations rather than performance criteria. Most of the criticism is directed at the venerable Istiqlal Party because of its inability to disengage from its die-hard old habits. “Patronage, regionalism, favoritism: they are the only criteria that match the choices made by El Fassi,” complained one of the party’s young educated leaders.

All the members of the eight-member high-level high-power commission responsible for developing the government’s joint program in Morocco are cognizant of the magnitude of the challenge. “Consequently, we have to decide, resolve and arbitrate. The task promises to be painful,” noted a senior politician from one of the coalition parties. 

The politician believes Benkirane must have realized that he had committed to the completion of a government “too fast and too soon” and must now adjust his time-tables pragmatically. Benkirane will now work closely with all leaders of the coalition to negotiate the final composition of the government. 

“Negotiations will be sharper on the distribution of portfolios. This is always difficult to do - all the more so if four concessions are required,” the senior politician observed.

Ultimately, senior leaders and politicians of all the coalition parties are in agreement that the main hurdles concerning the composition of Morocco’s next government have been successfully overcome. 

Resolving the outstanding differences is only a question of time. Since all four parties committed to the success of the new Benkirane-led government and the implementation of the new Constitution - their respective leaders and senior members will rise to the occasion and will make the necessary adjustments to expedite the completion of the coalition negotiations. 

Whether it will take the “one or two days” Benkirane predicted or a bit longer is a different matter though.

The Morocco News Agency takes this opportunity to wish all of its Christian readers a healthy, peaceful and Merry Christmas. May we all celebrate life with respect, tolerance and understanding for one another.

 "Let there be no compulsion in Religion." (Sura 2:257).


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Coalition Negotiators In Morocco Report Progress As They Move Towards Democracy

Coalition Negotiators In Morocco Report Progress As They Move Towards Democracy



 By Morocco News Agency Staff

Rabat, Morocco --- December 22, 2011 ... On December 20, the new coalition in Morocco elected Karim Ghellab of the Independence Party as Speaker of the House of Representatives for the term of 2011-2016.

In his acceptance speech, Ghellab pledged “to put the Moroccan citizens’ concerns and expectations at the center” of the House’s action.

The coalition negotiators failed to meet the December 20, 2011 deadline they had hoped to achieve. Back on December 17, the eight members of the Commission responsible for developing the government’s joint program reported to the four party leaders in Morocco that they were hoping to form a government as early as December 20.

Cognizant of the magnitude of the challenge and complexity of the negotiations, Benkirane stressed that “nothing is certain” and that he would not compromise on the integrity, cohesiveness and unity of the new government in Morocco in order to maintain an artificial time table.

“I cannot confirm anything. But if the government is formed on Tuesday, December 20, I will be happy,” he acknowledged.

The Commission will commence discussions on the portfolios to be allocated to each of the four coalition parties in Morocco only after the government’s joint program is formulated, agreed to, and announced.

On December 22, the coalition negotiators reported they were making progress and hoped to complete their work very soon. In response, Benkirane reiterated anew that he and the coalition partners remain committed to the formation of a government of excellence. That he would rather see the coalition  negotiations in Morocco  taking somewhat longer than compromise on the quality and integrity of a political process which illustrates the finest elements of an open and free democracy.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

In Morocco - The Signing of The Charter of the Majority

In Morocco - The Signing of The Charter of the Majority

 By Morocco News Agency Staff

Rabat, Morocco --- December 16, 2011 ... On the evening of December 16, Morocco took another major step toward the forming of the new coalition government. The leaders of the four parties of the Coalition - Abdelillah Benkirane, Abbas El Fassi, Nabil Benabdallah and Mohand Laenser - signed in Rabat the Charter of the Majority.

Benkirane defined the document as a “contract between the components of the next governing majority.” After the signing ceremony in Morocco, Benkirane said that with the signing ceremony, the four majority parties committed to “a common Charter and the structure of the new government.”

 The Charter of the Majority constitutes a major step forward in Morocco’s grappling with the ramifications of the significantly greater authority of the next government as mandated by the new Constitution.

The primary aim is to close ranks within the future ruling coalition. This is a very pertinent issue given the lack of solidarity and homogeneity that had plagued the previous government. The Charter specifies the mutual commitments of the coalition parties. Ultimately, the Charter defines the commitments of the government partners and the political-parliamentary rules of conduct within of the coalition.

The Charter is a framework document defining the relationship between members of the majority, as well as their professional and ethical obligations. The Charter stresses the mutual commitment of the coalition members in Morocco to work in harmony under one leadership and assume all government decisions jointly.

The Charter leads the way to the issuance of the overall the policy statement of the forthcoming government. Toward this end, the four parties formed an eight-member high-level high-power commission that is responsible for developing the government’s joint program. Each party designated two senior representatives.

The Justice and Development Party is represented by deputy secretary general Abdallah Baha and Mustapha Al Khalfi, the author of the party’s electoral program. The Independence Party is represented by two senior ministers of the current government - Nizar Baraka and Mohamed Saad Alami. The Popular Movement is represented by two politburo members - Abdeslam Ma├óninou and Lahcen Haddad. The Progress and Socialism Party is represented by two politburo members who are the authors of the party’s economic program - Abdel Ahad Fassi Fihri and Abdeslam Saddiki.

The work on both the Charter and the joint program clearly demonstrates the commitment of the Justice and Development Party to genuine cooperation and compromise.

In the opening session of the commission, Abdallah Baha stressed that the commission members “must work on the programs of the four majority parties to not only clear points of convergence but also ensure the rights of all.”

In his response, Abdeslam Saddiki called this approach “revolutionary government practice. In the past, the prime minister came with a program.” Members of the commission also plan on reaching out to the country’s economic sector, social partners and civil society in order to understand their concerns and aspirations, and integrate their proposals into the joint program of the government. 

 Moreover, both the Charter and the government’s joint program reiterate the unyielding commitment of all coalition members to sustaining and expanding key social-legal issues such as civil liberties and gender equality. The purpose of this inclusion goes beyond the politically expedient need to allay fears of the Islamists’ ascent or provide cover for the decision of the progressive leaders to participate in the government. The primary objective is to provide an authoritative statement in a formal document reiterating the several public assurances by Benkirane that his government “would not affect individual liberties and would not go against the international commitments of Morocco.”

Commission members in Morocco continue to work during the weekend and reportedly picked up the pace. In their latest progress report to the four party leaders, they expressed hope to form a government as early as December 20. However, Benkirane stressed that “nothing is certain” and that he would not compromise on the integrity, cohesiveness and unity of the government in order to maintain an artificial time table.

“I cannot confirm anything. But if the government will be formed on Tuesday, December 20, I will be happy,” he acknowledged.

Only after the government’s joint program is formulated and announced - will commence discussions on the portfolios to be allocated to each of the four parties comprising the next cabinet to govern Morocco.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Morocco Democracy: Coalition Negotiations Continue

Morocco Democracy: Coalition Negotiations Continue

By Morocco News Agency Staff
Rabat, Morocco --- December 14, 2011... Morocco’s designated next Prime Minister - Abdelilah Benkirane - continued on the path to democracy by conducting coalition building negotiations and consultations. 

Earlier this week he met with the Secretaries General of his main coalition partners - Abbas El-Fassi (the current Prime Minister) of the Independence Party, Mohand Laenser of the Popular Movement, and Nabil Benabdellah of the Party of Progress and Socialism. 
The four discussed a host of issues - ranging from articulating policy principles to selecting candidates for key positions in Morocco such as the Speaker of the House of Representatives. They agreed with Benkirane that the number of ministers and state secretaries of the next democratic cabinet would be between 25 and 30. 

Subsequently, Benkirane issued a statement that the meeting “took place in an atmosphere of brotherhood” and provided “the opportunity to discuss issues Parliament and the mechanisms of development of the government program.” 

He confirmed that the four party leaders in Morocco “decided to intensify meetings to finalize the formation of the government as soon as possible.”
Meanwhile, the de-facto majority of the coalition increased by five seats when five members of minuscule parties from the liberal left announced the formation of the Al-Moustakbal (the Future) independent parliamentary group that will support and vote for Benkirane’s government without being part of it. 

Miloud Chaabi of the Environment and Sustainable Development Party was elected the leader and spokesman of the group. 
In the statement announcing the formation of the Al-Moustakbal group, Chaabi explained that this initiative emanates from its firm belief in “the importance of the reform process Morocco is undergoing in the aftermath of the adoption of the new Constitution and the parliamentary elections of November 25, 2011 that illustrate the commitment to democracy, change, institutional reform and achieving sustainable development, as expressed by the Moroccan people.” 
With this in mind, the Al-Moustakbal group intends to act “in support of the commitment to reform and change in the management of public affairs.” With the Al-Moustakbal onboard - the Benkirane government will have a slightly larger majority of 222 seats with 56 percent of the votes. 




Monday, December 12, 2011

Morocco Democracy: On The Threshold of a New Government

Morocco Democracy: On The Threshold of a New Government


 By Morocco News Agency Staff

Rabat, Morocco --- December 13, 2011 ... Over the weekend, the governing bodies of the three parties interested in joining the coalition in Morocco with Benkirane’s Justice and Development Party formally decided to join the government.

On Sunday, the National Council of the Independence Party and the National Council of the Popular Movement both unanimously approved the decision to participate in the upcoming government.

Moreover, the Central Committee of the Progress and Socialism Party also approved by a large majority the decision to join the Benkirane government. These decisions mean that the forthcoming government will have from the start a comfortable majority of 217 seats (55 percent of the votes) - a profound improvement over the narrow 199-seat (50 percent) government Benkirane had been anticipating late last week.

 With these decisions, the meaningful coalition negotiations in Morocco can proceed on such issues as specific policies, the structure of government, and the selection of ministers.

Meanwhile, the public’s confidence in, and expectations from, the Benkirane government are exceeding significantly the support he and his coalition partners received during the elections.

According to a major poll conducted a week ago by the Moroccan weekly Actuel, 82 percent of Moroccans are confident in Benkirane’s ability to run a government and put Morocco on the right way.

According to the poll, 43 percent were “fully confident” and a further 39 percent were “reasonably confident” in the new government.

There is widespread support for Benkirane’s selections of “five priorities: justice, education, unemployment, health and housing,” for Morocco’s next government.




Sunday, December 11, 2011

Morocco Democracy: Benkirane Creates Narrow Coalition

Morocco Democracy: Benkirane Creates Narrow Coalition


By Morocco News Agency Staff

Rabat, Morocco --- December 10, 2011 ....Abdelilah Benkirane, Morocco’s next Prime Minister, decided to expedite the formation of his new government by immediately forming a narrow, small majority government. This way, it would be possible to begin implementing the new Constitution and the new good governance socio-economic policies immediately. The new government’s focus on domestic issues was clearly stated.

“Social issues will be given priority by the incoming government in Morocco, which will put emphasis on the sectors of education, health, employment, housing and justice,” Benkirane told a gathering of political leaders.

In the immediate future, Benkirane’s Justice and Development Party (107 seats - 27%) agreed to form a narrow-majority government with the two parties with whom he reached agreement on the key policy issues - the venerable Independence Party - Istiklal (60 seats - 15%) and the Popular Movement (32 seats - 8%) that is predominantly Amazigh/Berber. Together, the three-party coalition will have 199 seats (50%) - one more than the 198 seats required for a majority.

As indicated before, the trial and tribulations of Morocco’s coalition-building process is far from over. Moroccan parties and their leaders still grapple with the complexities of coalition forming negotiations under the authority and responsibility accorded by the new Constitution.  After first demonstrating interest in joining the government, the National Rally of Independents now decided to join the Authenticity and Modernity Party in the opposition.

On the other hand, the Party for Progress and Socialism (18 seats - 5%) that had broken down the Koutla alliance and thus scuttled the initial coalition negotiations is now having second thoughts given the socio-economic character of Benkirane’s plans.

Mustapha Adichane of the party’s policy committee informed Benkirane’s negotiators that the Party for Progress and Socialism was once again leaning towards joining the coalition. Adichane acknowledged that being part of a government implementing profound socio-economic reforms would be “the best way to serve the interests of the country, even though some voices within the party are [still] calling for it to join the opposition.”

A final decision will be made after the central committee’s meeting during the coming weekend.

Regardless of the trial and tribulations of the initial coalition-forming negotiations, Benkirane still plans on subsequently expanding the coalition with both mainstream-centrist and socialist-oriented parties. He is convinced that it is imperative for Morocco to consolidate a wide, national-unity government that will have the broad-based grassroots mandate required to oversee the implementation of the profound domestic socio-economic reforms Morocco needs.

In his meetings with Morocco political leaders Benkirane stressed that “the current situation is quite unusual and requires everyone to join forces to lead Morocco towards the development that people are counting on.”

He did not try to conceal the differences between his own Islamist Justice and Development Party and the other parties - be their secular socialist oriented or centrist-royalist. He argued that working together in order to meet Morocco’s needs should be the overriding priority of everybody.

“Of course we have our differences at the ideological level, but we are agreed on a number of points,” Benkirane emphasized.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Morocco PM - elect: No Islamic Dress Code

Morocco PM - elect: No Islamic Dress Code



By Morocco News Agency Staff
Rabat, Morocco --- December 10, 2011 .... Abdelilah Benkirane, Morocco's first Islamist prime minister said on Friday that his democratic government would not try to make women dress more modestly. Abdelilah Benkirane is to lead a coalition government in Morocco after his Justice and Development Party (PJD) became the latest Islamist movement in the Mid East to win an election in the wake of the "Arab Spring" revolutions. The party is anxious to reassure powerful secularists in the Morocco establishment, foreign investors, and the tourists who provide much of the country's revenue, that it will not try to impose a strict Muslim moral code. "We are proud that our point of reference is Islamist," Benkirane, the PJD's secretary general and prime minister designate, told a small group of reporters invited to a briefing. "I will never be interested in the private life of people, Allah created mankind free. I will never ask if a woman is wearing a short skirt or a long skirt." "But there are things forbidden by the law. I think even in some European countries, people cannot be naked in public places," he said. On relations with countries in Europe, Morocco's biggest trading partner, Benkirane said: "They are our friends and we need them and they will need us - Morocco not only has historical ties to Europe but philosophical ones." Benkirane declined to answer questions on what economic policies his government would pursue. Economists say Morocco needs to tame its budget deficit, stimulate growth and tackle the poverty and unemployment that are fuelling unrest. Morocco's monarch this week named an opponent of the PJD, Fouad Ali el-Himma as a royal adviser. That appointment could signal an attempt by the palace to rein in the Islamist-led coalition. Asked about el-Himma, Benkirane said it was customary in Morocco not to comment on decisions made by the monarch. "I am forming the new government in a country whose head of state is King Mohamed VI, he is my boss. It is not my business how the head of state, who is my boss, manages his royal court," said Benkirane.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Morocco Elections: Coalition Up-Date

Morocco Elections: Coalition Up-Date


Morocco News Agency Staff

Rabat, Morocco --- December 5 ... On November 30, King Mohammed VI formally appointed Abdelilah Benkirane, the leader of the winning Justice and Development Party, as Morocco’s next Prime Minister in accordance with the provisions of the new Constitution.

The King noted that he was following the new constitutional guidelines requiring the Monarch to choose a Prime Minister from the party which won the largest number of seats in the Parliament. Benkirane reiterated his fealty to the throne and stressed his commitment to follow the Constitution and keep Morocco online with the King’s reforms process.

On December 1, after meeting with the current Prime Minister Abbas Fassi, Benkirane sought to reassure Morocco’s international allies that the country will stay the course. He stated that “it is unthinkable to dismantle Morocco’s historic alliances with the West, which remain based on many mutual interests.” Benkirane further specified that “Morocco’s relationships with France, Spain, Britain and the United States will not change.”

In early December, Benkirane and the PJD leadership focused their coalition negotiations on establishing an even more centrist-mainstream a government that would better represent the Moroccan grassroots. With the Koutla alliance faltering over internal disagreements, senior negotiators for the Justice and Development Party and other would-be coalition partner parties considered reducing the future coalition’s dependence on leftist elements and instead focus on the mainstream bulwarks of Morocco’s society and political establishment as the PJD’s primary coalition partners.

The Justice and Development Party leaders reached out to the mainstream-royalist National Rally for Independents with its 52 seats (13%) as the bulwark of centrist policies. Meanwhile coalition negotiations continued with the venerable Independence Party - Istiklal (60 seats - 15%) and the Popular Movement (32 seats - 8%) that is predominantly Amazigh/Berber.

Consequently, over the weekend, the radical-leftist Progress and Socialism Party opted to rethink a role in the coalition despite the Koutla alliance agreement. On December 4, the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP) - another Koutla party - also decided not to participate in a coalition.

“The USFP is now part of the opposition, following a decision made Sunday by its national council,” announced Driss Lachgar of the party’s political bureau. Ultimately, with the Independence Party, the National Rally for Independents, and the Popular Movement as the primary coalition partners of the Justice and Development Party - Benkirane will be in position to consolidate an extremely solid centrist-mainstream coalition of 251 seats (63%) that will enshrine confidence in the continuance of Morocco’s unique character, way of life and policies.

The trial and tribulations of Morocco’s coalition-building process is far from over. The political reforms process of the last five years - that culminated in the ratification and adoption of the new Constitution - find the entire parliamentary-political establishment unprepared for some of the inevitable challenges of coalition-building negotiations.

As the leaders of Morocco’s main parties sit down to begin the inevitable coalition negotiations - there will be bumps merely because of inexperience that will, in turn, prolong and complicate the negotiations process. However, given the unity of the mind about the nation’s most burning challenges and differences mainly on the modalities for their resolution - a viable mainstream-centrist coalition will ultimately emerge.

Thus, after some rancorous coalition negotiations and substantive meaningful compromises - Morocco will settle for stable coalition government focusing on providing good governance and resolving socio-economic challenges without rocking the country’s unique and endearing social order characterized by diversity, pragmatism and moderation.

There should be no doubt that Morocco is on the threshold of profound socio-political and economic transformation. The public at large has great expectations from the new government and the new Constitution, and will give the forthcoming coalition government a grace period to prove itself. Delivering discernible success expeditiously - that is, within a realistic time-frame - will be the only yardstick by which the Benkirane government will be judged by the public and future voters.