It’s election season in Morocco, and the political parties are working hard to get out the vote. What makes these elections so special is that they are the first to be held under the 2011 Constitution’s provision for enhanced regionalization, by which local and regional authorities will have new budgetary and administrative powers previously held by the central government. In addition, for the first time, representatives of the regional councils will be directly elected, giving their constituents a stronger voice in managing local issues.
According to local observers, the Ministry of the Interior, which oversees municipal and regional matters, has developed an innovative text messaging form to link voters to their designated polling stations, ending the confusion of previous years where printed lists at each station had to be consulted for the right locations.
In addition, the political parties hunting for success on September 4th in the more than 31,000 seats being contested locally and 678 seats on the regional councils are using social media widely to spread their appeals. Given that there are at least 30 registered political parties vying for seats, it is no surprise that the ratio of candidates to positions is quite high – more than 4:1 in local elections and more than 10:1 for the regional councils. Parties have created on-line videos on YouTube, are live-streaming rallies and events, and broadening their outreach beyond their traditional districts.
One of the factors piquing voter interest is a new on-line program that brings questions from citizens directly to members of parliament, eventually to be extended to other elected officials. Developed by Andrew Mandelbaum, formerly of the US Institute for Peace and the National Democratic Institute, who speaks French, Arabic, and Moroccan colloquial Arabic, the site comes out of his long experience in governance programs in Morocco. He is concerned that “Citizens really rarely see a member of parliament actually answer to their needs and they have very few ways to transmit their needs to elected officials.”
Given his concern with this “trust gap,” he teamed up with Hind Kabaj, a Moroccan with previous US experience, to create SimSim-Participation Citoyenne’s website Nouabook.com, which means “My MPs” in the local dialect. To date, they have been able to introduce this free service throughout Morocco, garnering hundreds of inquiries that were transmitted directly to the MPs. What was surprising was the number of MPs who have responded and recognize the value of this form of citizen engagement.
While democracy is definitely in its developmental stage in Morocco, and there are few predictions about voter turnout or outcomes, there is a growing sense that Moroccans will heed the King’s recent call that “Citizens should vote for competent, credible candidates, who are committed to serving the public good…Voting is a right and a national duty, a major responsibility that has to be shouldered. It is a tool in your hands; you either use it to change the daily management of your affairs or to maintain the status quo, good or bad.”
Strong words that underscore the King’s commitment to proactively moving Morocco forward on its transition as a liberalizing democracy.