At a recent roundtable of policy pros in Washington, DC, there was a discussion about the reform strategy that King Mohammed VI adopted when he acceded to the throne in 1999. It was speculated that, in addition to his own instincts, he may have been influenced by his friend King Juan Carlos of Spain to take an evolutionary approach to change, building alliances with liberal elites who share his commitment to move Morocco towards a constitutional monarchy.
While there continues to be concern about the depth and pace of reform, there is little doubt that Morocco is changing for the better. Yet critics are concerned that there needs to be greater public understanding and inclusion in the process to avoid clashes over substance, scope, and timing of reforms.
In considering this assumption about the King’s modus operandi, it struck me that there are at least three dimensions to how the King projects his reform vision. The first step is when, in a major address, he defines the issue, his perspectives, and why it is critical to tackle this issue. With a robust parliamentary government, the next step would logically be for introduction of related legislation to highlight the reform issue. However, given the fractious nature of the recent coalition government and the need for a coherent process, the second step usually involves creating a commission to carry out discussion sessions with stakeholders around the country to gather data and recommendations and build consensus. The commission then prepares a final report for the King that is presented in a public forum.
Integrating the best thinking on reforms
This is where the challenge is emerging for Morocco’s parliamentary government: how to draft legislative initiatives that will win majority support, and how to integrate recommendations from a commission appointed by the King.
This is new territory for the government, and it is clear that the parliament and the commissions are still evolving their working relationships. It is instructive that the judicial reforms presented by the government last month drew on the work of the commission on judicial reform, and that integrative process will only become more effective when coordination is institutionalized.
Even the most recent coalition-rebuilding process that is taking many weeks to complete, while frustrating to some observers, is an exercise in parliamentary democracy. The King’s refusal to intervene sent a clear signal to the political parties that they have to step up and be accountable for their actions – a critical step forward in the maturation of Morocco’s political system.
It was interesting that most of the experts gave strong support to Morocco’s approach to reform. Given the region’s unsettled political transitions and how Morocco has moved forward over the past 14 years, there was optimism that reforms would continue, albeit at a tempo that suits Morocco’s priorities.
Regardless of what we might perceive from an analyst’s armchair, the existential “trade-offs” that are part of any reform may set priorities and a pace that seem opaque or arbitrary, but the reality is that the King values consensus and dialogue—hallmarks of his reform strategy.
As Morocco continues to move forward with the consensus-consultation-consolidation-to-legislation model of reform, there is a helpful role for the United States and other international partners that goes beyond foreign assistance.
By providing technical assistance, comparative data, and lessons learned for strengthening political parties, local governments, and civil society, Moroccans will become more confident in their abilities to take responsibility for their futures. Enabling citizens to chart and promote reforms themselves would be a significant contribution to the King’s vision of a constitutional democracy.