Morocco answers ‘Arab Spring’ with vote on reform

Agence France-Presse
Morocco’s king introduces a reform plan after thousands took to the streets in protests modeled on the Arab Spring uprisings, which continue to shake the Arab world in their sixth month. The vote may allow the prime minister to become head of the government.
Thousands of people hold huge banners and gather as they take part in a rally to support the government’s project for constitutional reform during a peaceful protest in Casablanca on Sunday. AFP Photo
Thousands of people hold huge banners and gather as they take part in a rally to support the government’s project for constitutional reform during a peaceful protest in Casablanca on Sunday. AFP Photo

Moroccans are set to vote Friday in a referendum to curb the near absolute powers of their king, Mohammed VI, who has moved quickly to offer reforms in the wake of anti-regime uprisings throughout the Arab world.
Faced with protests modeled on the Arab Spring uprisings that ousted long-serving leaders in Tunisia and Egypt, Mohammed VI moved this month to get ahead of protesters by offering to devolve some of his wide-ranging powers to the prime minister and parliament.
Under a new draft constitution to be voted on Friday, the king would remain head of state, the military, and the Islamic faith in Morocco, but the prime minister, chosen from the largest party elected to parliament, would take over as head of the government.
Mohammed VI, who in 1999 took over the Arab world’s longest-serving dynasty, offered the reforms after the youth-based February 20 Movement organized weeks of pro-reform protests that brought thousands to the streets.

The reforms fall short of the full constitutional monarchy many protesters were demanding and the movement has urged its supporters to boycott Friday’s vote. The reform plan has been hailed abroad, however, with the European Union saying it “signals a clear commitment to democracy.”

The country’s three biggest political parties – the Justice and Development Party, an Islamist formation; the Socialist Union of Popular Forces, or USFP, and the conservative Istiqlal party – have also urged their supporters to vote “yes.”

“This project shows enormous progress in relation to the current constitution,” said Abdelouahed Radi, the head of Morocco’s parliament and secretary-general of the USFP, pointing to its “guarantees of the separation of power, of political freedoms, of human rights.”

The February 20 movement has continued to hold protests, organized through websites such as Facebook and YouTube, since the reforms were announced and maintains they do not go far enough.

“The reform, even if it guarantees civic and political rights, has not changed the essence of the constitution… with religious, executive and judicial power concentrated in the monarchy,” said Nizar Bennamate, a 25-year-old movement organizer in the capital Rabat. The movement has already called another demonstration for Sunday.

Analysts say there is little doubt the new constitution will be approved and the brief referendum campaign has been dominated by the “yes” side, with few signs of an organized “no” vote movement.

Media coverage has been overwhelmingly in favor of the “yes” campaign, with even newspaper sports pages running interviews with athletes on why they plan to vote in favor of the new constitution. Thousands of supporters also took to the streets in major cities including Rabat and Casablanca on Sunday to back the reforms. On the streets of Rabat many voiced support both for the reforms and for the 47-year-old king, who has broken from the more repressive rule of his father Hassan II and sought to project a more modern image.

Still anxious to ensure public support for the new constitution, authorities in Morocco have turned to the country’s mosques and imams to get out the vote. Muslim worshippers attending Friday prayers last week were exhorted to back the plan, with imams across the country reading a statement saying it “offers all advantages to our society” and will ensure Morocco “remains attached to its religious roots,” a sign of how seriously authorities take a ‘yes’ vote.

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