"Satisfying" turnout in Moroccan elections

"Satisfying" turnout in Moroccan elections

Morocco's first parliamentary elections held under a new constitution giving more powers to lawmakers had a turnout of 45 per cent, the Interior Ministry announced after polling stations closed Friday, dpa reported.

International observers described the turnout as "satisfying" in comparison with 2007, when only 37 per cent of eligible voters went to polls.

The authorities had been concerned about low turnout, which would have eroded the credibility of the constitutional reform aimed at curbing Arab Spring protests.

Observers gave the moderate Islamist Party of Justice and Development (PJD) - currently the second-largest bloc in parliament - good chances of victory, pointing to Islamists in neighbouring Tunisia who last month won the country's first democratic election after a popular uprising.

PJD Secretary-General Abdelilah Benkirane said he hoped the party would pass from opposition into government.

"Voting for the PJD means voting in favour of a programme to solve the problems the country is facing, especially in the areas of education and health," Benkirane said.

The biggest party in the outgoing parliament is the nationalist party Istiqlal, whose leader, Abbas el-Fassi, heads a coalition government.

The PJD also faced a challenge from the newly formed Coalition for Democracy, an alliance of eight parties that includes a pro-monarchy group. The election results were due Saturday.

The PJD had expressed concern that the elections could be rigged to keep it out of power, but Italian observer Matteo Mecacci told journalists there was "no indication" of fraud.

"The United States supports Morocco's efforts" in the "ongoing democratic process," State Department spokesman Andy Halus told the Moroccan news agency MAP.

Under the new constitution, which Moroccans approved in a July referendum, King Mohammed VI, who retains full authority over the military and religious affairs, must choose the next prime minister from the party that wins the most seats in parliament.

The new constitution grants more powers to the prime minister, government and parliament.

Mohammed VI, descended from a monarchy that has ruled Morocco for 350 years, introduced reforms in a new constitution in the summer to try to appease disenchanted Moroccans and prevent a popular revolt against his rule similar to uprisings that toppled autocrats in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

He then called elections nearly one year ahead of schedule to start applying the new constitution. Morocco's proportional representation system makes it difficult for any party to win an absolute majority. If the PJD won the elections, it would probably have to form a coalition with secularist parties.

Morocco's February 20 protest movement, which has been trying to emulate Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, called on citizens to boycott the elections. It says the constitutional reforms are insufficient.

Thousands of February 20 activists held protests against the election in several Moroccan cities.

Sixty of the 395 parliamentary seats are reserved exclusively for women, and 30 seats for young people. About 4,000 national and international observers were present to ensure transparency.

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