Moroccans go to polls as monarchy cedes powers
Moroccans voted in a parliamentary election yesterday that could yield their most representative government ever, after King Mohammed ceded some powers to prevent any tumultuous spillover of Arab Spring uprisings.
The election will be a litmus test of the ability of Arab monarchies to craft reforms that would placate popular yearning for greater democracy without violence-ridden revolts of the sort seen in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen and Syria this year.
Some 13.6 million Moroccans registered to vote in the North African country's ninth election since independence from France in 1956. The voter turnout stood at 34pc by 5pm, nine hours after the vote began, the interior ministry said.
Voter turnout at the previous polls in 2007 stood at a record low 37pc of 15.5 million voters registered then by the interior ministry. The ministry has not explained the drop in the number of registered voters between 2007 and 2011.
State-run 2M television channel said some of the highest turnout rates on Friday were in the disputed Western Sahara.
Shoe shiner Mohamed said he may vote before polling stations close.
"I have to vote so that we can end the misery we live in," he said as he crouched waiting for customers on a busy Rabat boulevard. "That's all we have for now: patience and a vote."
In contrast to previous elections, Friday's vote is a closely run contest between a moderate Islamist party and a new coalition of liberals with close ties to the royal palace.
"We don't know what to expect. We hope voter turnout will exceed 50pc and that today we will mark a victory of democracy," said Abdelilah Benkirane, leader of the Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD), as he voted in Rabat's middle-class Les Orangers neighbourhood.
His rival Salaheddine Mezouar, leading the liberal Alliance for Democracy coalition, also could not make any predictions.
"The feedback is positive so far. . . people are going to the polling stations. . . I'm confident Moroccans are well aware of the particular meaning of the current context," he told Reuters after he voted in the upper-class Souissi neighbourhood.
Under constitutional reforms backed by the king earlier this year, the new government will have unprecedented powers, though the king retains the final say on the economy, security and religion.