RABAT (AFP) – Moroccan nationalist party Istiqlal on Sunday vowed to keep an alliance with socialists after emerging as the surprise winner in elections marred by the lowest turnout ever in the north African nation.
“We will respect the commitments that we have signed with our friends … we must work towards a common position on the formation of a government,” said Abbas El Fassi, secretary general of Istiqlal, Morocco’s oldest party.
Istiqlal won 52 seats in Friday’s vote, five more than the moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD), according to preliminary results quoted by Interior Minister Chakib Benmoussa.
The Union of Socialist Popular Forces (USFP), which previously held the most seats, won only 36.
Benmoussa said the turnout was just 37 percent of the 15.5 million electorate, down from 52 percent in the last election in 2002.
Held back by Morocco’s proportional representation system, no party has a majority and intense negotiations over forming a governing coalition will now follow.
Istiqlal was founded in 1944 and played a major role in campaigning for independence from France which was achieved in 1956. It received 16 percent of the vote to add four seats to its total from the last election in 2002.
The Islamist party cried foul after failing to become the biggest party as it had hoped for.
“Money from our rivals was changing hands all over the place,” the PJD number two Lahcen Daoudi said.
But international poll monitors gave the vote their stamp of approval.
“Overall the vote was conducted in an orderly manner, even if the members of the delegation were informed of isolated irregularities on election day,” the monitors said in a preliminary report.
The European Union meanwhile hailed what it called the election’s success and transparence as well as efforts to get more women out to vote, in a statement in Brussels on Sunday.
“The democratic conditions in which the elections took place show Morocco’s commitment to the process of political, economic and social reforms undertaken at the highest state levels in recent years,” the statement said.
Pledging to wipe out corruption, the PJD had hoped to win between 70 and 80 seats in Friday’s polls, up from 42 in the last parliament.
The breakthrough would have caused a political headache for the reformist King Mohammed VI.
The USFP was down from 50 seats in the last election in 2002, when it joined with Istiqlal to lead a five-party coalition to keep the PJD out of the government.
Observers said the Islamists had not grasped the need to pick strong local candidates.
Political science specialist Mohamed Darif said parties like Istiqlal are “electoral machines that know how to win over their clientele.”
“In a conservative society like Morroco, people don’t vote for groups but for people according to their religion, ethnic background and then their political programme.”
The parties mostly fall under three main headings: the left and centre-right parties that are part of the current governing coalition; Islamist formations, including the PJD, which is the main opposition; and extreme left groups.
The electoral system makes it virtually impossible for a single party to gain an absolute majority. Mainstream parties are unlikely to link up with the PJD this time either.
Voter disaffection has been steadily increasing over the years. In 1984 turnout was officially 67.43 percent, although there were many irregularities.
On Friday, some voters had difficulties in understanding procedure. Each competing group of candidates chose a symbol so illiterate voters would recognise the party. Nearly half of the population is illiterate.
In Ain el Aouda, a rural community 25 kilometres (15 miles) outside Rabat, 44-year-old labourer Mouamar Jaouadi regretted that no information campaign was organised in his village.
“The majority of people here are illiterate country people and one will find among them men and women who had difficulty in understanding how to vote,” he said, as he waited outside the voting centre in the midday sun.