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Moroccans vote in crucial parliamentary polls

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Voters headed to the polls on Friday for the kingdom’s 10th parliamentary elections since independence in 1956 to define a new political map for the North African country.

About 16 million Moroccans out of the country’s 34 million people have registered to vote. They will choose from 30 parties that are competing for power.

Voters from Morocco’s 95 electoral districts will elect members to serve five-year terms in the 395-member Chamber of Representatives, the lower house of parliament.

The winning party will be tasked by King Mohammed VI to form a coalition government, as the multi-party system makes it impossible for any political party to win an absolute majority.

Turnout in Friday’s elections will be closely watched as an indication of people’s trust in the country’s politicians, with projections indicating a fair amount of voter apathy expected as in past votes.

“People have lost confidence in politicians and political parties, and I don’t think the turnout will be high,” analyst Jamal Ben Issa told Al Jazeera.

“Most of the leading parties in Morocco have been tested before, but failed to translate their promises in the electoral campaigns into achievements on the ground,” he said.

With more than 30 parties to choose from, many of which have no clear platform, voters seem to be turning to religion and nationalism to guide their political choices, Ali Sedjari, UNESCO’s human rights chair and professor of juridical science at Mohammed V University in Rabat, told Al Jazeera.

The ruling Islamic Justice and Development Party (PJD) will be vying for a second consecutive term in office after winning the 2011 vote for the first time.

If PJD wins and leads a new coalition government, it will be the first party in the modern history of the kingdom to do so.

But the battle will not be easy. PJD is expected to face stiff competition, especially from the opposition Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM), which won local elections in 2015.
The Istiqlal (Independence) Party – the oldest in the country, founded in 1944 – is also projected to do well in this vote.

Some analysts say PJD’s attraction has waned after the Islamist party played its role in absorbing the Arab Spring revolutionary spirit that ignited in Morocco in 2011 as part of the regional uprisings.

According to Duke University political scientist Abdeslam Maghraoui, a North Africa expert, Morocco’s monarchical institution is unlikely to still view PJD leader Abdelilah Benkirane as a real political partner, now that the threat of the uprisings is over.

“The PJD basically helped the monarchy navigate the pressure of the youth uprisings in the region,” Maghraoui said, adding that the monarchy has emerged more powerful in the wake of the Arab Spring.

Asked by Al Jazeera what to expect from their country’s next government, most Moroccans agreed that whatever party is in charge, it should urgently tackle social challenges.

These include providing improved education and healthcare services, and generating enough employment in a country where – according to the World Bank – more than one fifth of young people are out of work.

“We need employment, decent accommodation, a good health system and better education. Corruption in the country, which remains widespread in both the public and business spheres, has to end as well,” Mansouri Badr, a senior bank officer, told Al Jazeera.

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