01/07/2011

New Moroccan constitution: the beginning or the end of reforms?

Today, Moroccans are asked to vote on the draft constitutional reform proposed by King Mohamed VI. Although the vote result does little doubt – yes prevails widely among analysts of each side -, will this reform will start or end of the opening of the King to change? The question whether the proposed reform appeases tensions in Morocco or the contrary will strengthen it is therefore raised.

Developed by a committee appointed by the Sovereign, the new constitution should establish theoretically a constitutional monarchy in Morocco. Indeed, the monarch must now choose a prime minister from the party that came first in parliamentary elections. The head of government, accountable to Parliament, may dissolve the House of Representatives. In addition, the House of Representatives have the sole legislative initiative. Elected regional governments will gain new skills and the judicial branch should gain independence. Finally, in the new constitution, the king remains « inviolable », but he ceases to be « sacred ».

Welcomed by almost all of the political class – with the exception of the ultra-left – and charifs from all the regions of the kingdom, the new Constitution did not convince the protesters of the « Movement of 20 February , « which called for a boycott of the polls on Friday 1st July. These opponents, spearheads of the protest movement that has shaken the kingdom, disagree with both the substance and  the form of the new text. On the form, they indicate that this new constitution has been drafted by the king’s camp, without any consultation with « the movement of the July 20 ».

Regarding the substance, they argue that the king will keep many prerogatives. He will chair the Council of Ministers, « in which major strategies are determined », a new Security Council and the Higher Judicial Council. He will retain its veto on the interior minister, who is responsible for police and security services, and keep an eye on the foreign policy of Morocco by appointing ambassadors. He will remain the spiritual leader of Muslims in Morocco, defined as a Muslim nation. The legitimacy of the monarchy is not at issue in Morocco, except at the margin by a few extremists, but many require « a king who reigns but does not govern, » and a real separation of powers, that the new constitution will not establish.

It is difficult to know today to what extent this new constitution will stop « the movement of February 20. » Indeed, the end of protests and demands for reforms in Morocco may depend on factors both external and internal. First of all it will be linked to the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt. Indeed, if elections are truly democratic and lead to real reforms, the challenge does not dry up in Morocco. Also crucial will be the epilogue of Libya and the spread or not of the protests to Algeria. Finally, improving the social and economic situation of the majority of the population – one of the major demands of the Arab spring – will also be essential. In this context the collusion between the monarchy and the business should also be seriously questioned.

It will be interesting to observe the abstention rate and the regularity of the election. An abstention rate too high will increase the determination of the “movement of February 20” to seek further reforms. If serious irregularities are discovered, this would seriously weaken the institution of monarchy and dent the popularity of Mohamed VI. The bet made by Mohammed IV is not without risk and it might eventually become the beginning of political reform rather than an end.