Caitlin Dearing Scott, MAC
June 3, 2016
Since 2013, the National Democratic Institute has worked with members of Parliament (MPs) in Morocco to improve citizen engagement and bridge the trust gap between elected officials and their constituencies – a long-standing challenge in the Kingdom. Through the program, funded by the British Embassy and USAID, fourteen MPs established constituent outreach offices to “directly engage with citizens and advocate on their behalf.” The program culminated in a March 2016 manual, Getting Closer to Citizens: A Manual on Outreach for Elected Officials, to provide best practices for constituency outreach.
Such outreach – which includes holding public forums and gatherings; going out into the community; cooperating with NGOs; leveraging social media and other online tools; and ensuring inclusive local engagement by bringing in women and youth – is an essential element of improving citizen engagement in politics. Its aims are to build citizen trust in the political process and political institutions; improve citizen understanding about the role and real abilities of elected officials; and strengthen political party capacity to represent public, rather than party, interests in decision-making processes. As NDI notes, “Elected leaders who are visible, responsive and accountable to citizens outside of election campaign periods create public trust in themselves and political institutions. This trust is crucial for effective and sustainable democracy.”
The timing for the program could not have been better. Morocco is in the early stages of an advanced regionalization project designed to devolve power to the local and regional levels – the success of which will depend largely on citizen engagement, improved government services, and more responsive political parties and institutions.
Announced in 2008 and then codified in the 2011 Constitution and subsequent organic laws, the regionalization process kicked off in earnest with the September 2015 local and regional elections. For the first time, Moroccan voters directly elected representatives to their regional councils; and now both regional and local councils will have greater independence in managing and budgeting for their respective affairs.
For NDI, these reforms “demonstrate the increasing relevance of outreach by local elected officials…The devolution of powers means that regional and local councilors need to ensure that they are in touch with citizen’s needs and are adequately informed to determine the direction of local government reforms.”
Through the program, which was judged a success by both the MPs and their constituencies (see the manual and a video for some of their stories), “citizens have learned more about the role of local and national elected representatives, which is key to the successful functioning of democracy and satisfaction of citizens with the work of their elected representatives.” Moreover the efforts of elected representatives to “better connect with constituents and represent the needs of citizens has increased their ability to fulfill their role, combat negative attitudes toward elected representatives, and meet the demand in Morocco for greater access to elected representatives.”
The hope is that this effort can be replicated on a much larger scale throughout the country. Increased use of technology and social media should help. During the 2015 elections, the improved use of technology helped with voter registration and dissemination of party platforms, benefiting political parties, administrating officials, and citizens alike. This type of mutually-beneficial engagement will prove all the more important in the coming years as Morocco’s takes on the complex challenges – and opportunities – of devolution.