Rabat, Morocco – Spent a day in Rabat speaking with people about the elections for a new parliament on Nov 25, wanting to understand why there were mixed predictions regarding the turnout in light of the large percentage of eligible voters who turned out to approve the new constitution on July 1. My pool is limited to those who speak their minds in English, mingled with French and Arabic, so we’re on even ground! The pundits claim that the turnout for the constitution reflected people’s esteem for the King, while the parliamentary election turnout will send a signal about how people feel about the political parties.
If it were only that simple a formulation… I spoke with men and women under 30, and professionals working at international NGOs. The young people are not members of the Feb 20 opposition movement, which has mobilized demonstrations for nine months and is calling for a boycott of the elections. The youth I spoke with, in many ways, are privileged by education and family ties, but have strong feelings about what they see are the perks enjoyed by those from the “right” families. I am impressed by their singular focus on wanting to build more economic opportunities for all Moroccans, which they believe is the core to revitalizing the society. They are able to relate stories of friends, classmates, and personal experiences, that describe obstacles and favoritism in job recruiting and selection. They don’t expect much from the elections without a seismic shift in the attitudes of elected officials away from personal enrichment and towards greater equity and opportunity. When I asked them if they were going to vote, they avoided a direct answer.
The professionals interviewed related that their Moroccan staff echoed these sentiments of “why bother?” It is noteworthy that this group was over 35 and felt equally strongly that the young people were missing an opportunity to continue to struggle by planting seeds for change now. “They want a new world starting on Nov 26th, that’s not going to happen…change doesn’t happen that way, it takes hard work,” remarked an advocate for human rights. The NGO leaders are encouraging their staff people to vote, to get involved in the campaigns, and to send a message that the young people are not going to fade away. “While there is no fuse burning, Morocco is not in a cocoon. People see what is happening in Tunisia and they wonder if the elections will be as free and fair as before.”
Tomorrow…talking with business leaders and politicians.