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Morocco: Online Debates Rage Days Ahead of Parliamentary Elections

This post is part of our special coverage Morocco Protests 2011.

Morocco will hold parliamentary elections on Friday, November 25, 2011. The poll is the first since a referendum, in July 2011, led to the adoption of a series of constitutional amendments introduced by the King and intended, officially, at reducing his prerogatives in favor of a democratically elected legislature and government.

Voters will elect members of the Lower House of the Moroccan parliament, or Assembly of Representatives, for a term of five years. The elections do not involve the Upper Consultative House, or Assembly of Councillors, which is elected indirectly in a separate process by trade unions and local councils.

The new Constitution provides that the king chooses the future prime minister, among the party that comes out first in the poll. The government is then to be constituted ​​according to a parliamentary majority.

The Lower House is elected through a closed party-list proportional representation system. This means that people will vote for party lists rather than individual candidates. According to official figures, 13 million Moroccans have registered to vote.

The electoral campaign was officially launched on November 12 and runs through November 24, the night before the election.

Some attribute the constitutional changes introduced by the king and the speed with which the reforms were carried out, to the pressure brought to bear by the February 20 movement, which has been leading street protests for the last nine months. Others, on the other hand, think the movement has lost its momentum and its appeal with the public ever since the referendum in July.

Actively calling for boycott during an electoral campaign is considered illegal in Morocco. Several activists distributing leaflets containing inscriptions such as “I will boycott. How about you?” were briefly detained in cities like Casablanca, Rabat and Tangier.

The February 20 Coordinations (the name that designates the local committees of the movement) in Casablanca and Rabat and other major cities issued a statement calling for the boycott of the upcoming poll. On Sunday, thousands of protesters answered the call by marching across the country.

Online debate

Moroccan netizens are using the internet extensively to discuss the issues raised by the upcoming legislative elections. Part of the discussion is revolving around the electoral programs of the competing parties, the question of whether to boycott or participate in the poll and the role played by the pro-democracy youth movement, February 20. The debate has been raging across social networks and blogs, and it is not uncommon to see discussions taking a confrontational turn.

Khalid Zriouli calls for a more reasoned debate. He writes [ar]:

صوت على أية جهة تريد.. لكن لا تشتم الآخر ولا تسبه،
تريد أن تقاطع؟؟ قاطع، لكن لا تتهم المصوتين بأقبح الصفات..
دافع عن فكرتك واجذب الناس إليها.. إن كانت دلائلك قوية ستفعل ذلك دون الحاجة إلى معاداة الآخر.
Vote for anyone you want, but do not insult opponents [...]
You want to boycott? Fine. But please do not throw accusations at those who have chosen to vote.
Defend your ideas and rally people around you.. If your arguments are strong enough you won't need to antagonize anyone.

Among the 395 seats of the upcoming Chamber, 60 are reserved for a national list of women.

Houda says she will vote. She doubts the measures taken to increase female representation in parliament can work if women do not vote on Friday. She has this to say to fellow Moroccan eligible female voters [fr]:

On nous leurre avec une égalité de surface et une parité chimérique. On nous promet constitutionnellement un droit qui n’a plus besoin d’être argumenté [...]
Votez citoyennes, les citoyens qui comptent vous gouverner, ont maintenant la conscience tranquille.

They lure us with a facade of equality and an illusory parity. They promise us a constitutional right that we no longer need to argue for [...]
Do vote [on Friday] fellow women citizens. Those who have ruled over you, have now cleared their conscience.

The 2011 United Nations Development Program's Human Development Index (HDI) ranks Morocco at the 130th place, below many comparable Arab countries. Visiting Norway, the country that topped the UNDP ranking, Ayman could not help but make the comparison. He says he will vote but deplores the incumbent government's record. He writes [fr]:

La Norvège m’a fait pâlir de jalousie à un point où je suis devenu allergique aux déclarations ridicules d’un gouvernement qui nous a fait perdre 4 place en 4 ans et qui continue de nous faire rougir de honte par les programmes électoraux flous de ses ministres qui ont mis maintenant la casquette de leurs partis périmés.

Norway has made me green with envy to the point that I became allergic to the ridiculous statements of our government who made us lose four places [in the HDI] in four years and continues to make us ashamed by the electoral plans of its ministers and their old-fashioned parties.

Many citizen-driven initiatives have emerged during this election period, among them Wlad Cha'ab (Children of the People), a podcast platform co-founded by Khaled Abjik and which offers the opportunity for participants to share their arguments for or against participating in the forthcoming parliamentary elections.

The following video [ar] is the first in a series. Some participants are calling for the boycott, others say they will vote to change the political establishment. Others parody political parties’ electoral campaigns.

And there is no shortage of creativity between opponents and proponents of the vote who have been waging a tit-for-tat battle on social networks.

On YouTube, pro-vote and pro-boycott videos are being uploaded. The following video was posted by the3doors. It asks viewers to participate in the poll “because one voice is not enough”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-b6g9T2Q3FU&feature=channel_video_title

In the following video, posted by DIRIKTEtv, and shot during a pro-boycott demonstration, interviewees express various reasons why they will not turn out on Friday, among which endemic corruption and the lack of trust in the political class.

Citizen watch

The upcoming elections will be monitored by local as well as accredited foreign observers. Some citizens, however, have decided to take matters into their own hands. Marsad.ma is a platform launched by the Moroccan Human Rights Organization (OMDH) allowing citizens to monitor the election and report on incidents or irregularities occurring during the poll using various tools such as Twitter or SMS text messaging. The website draws from the experience of the renowned Ushahidi platform.

Riad Zany interviews one of Marsad's team members:

“This year, given the changes occurring across the region and the importance of the internet as a citizenship tool, we decided to explore digital technology and new media,” said Mounir Bensalah, an observer and member of the Marsad team.

Campaign 2.0

Political parties are also trying to take advantage of the widespread use of social media by young people. Many parties and political leaders have launched their own Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. But they are late in the game according to Marouane Harmach who writes [fr]:

La forte pénétration des médias sociaux parmi les jeunes (merci le printemps arabe), a poussé les organisations demanderesse d’audience large : les entreprises, les organisations associatives, les partis politiques et …. les politiciens à utiliser ces canaux dans leur communication à l’adresse des militants et du large public.
Au Maroc, les politiciens et les organisations politiques ont compris – un peu tardivement – l’intérêt des médias sociaux et ont commencé à l’investir de manière très souvent gauche et maladroite.

La raison de cette « gaucherie » est la déconnexion des politiciens des attentes et des pratiques des catégories les plus « connectées ».

The high penetration of social media among young people (thank you Arab Spring), pushed organizations seeking a larger audience (businesses, NGOs, political parties and …. politicians) to use these channels to communicate with activists and the general public.

In Morocco, politicians and political organizations have realized -belatedly- the value of social media and started to invest in it in an often clumsy way.

The reason for this clumsiness is the disconnection of politicians vis-à-vis the expectations and practices of the mostly “connected” youth.

Internet, a space for public debate

Parliamentary elections are creating a passionate debate in Morocco, especially among young people. An increasingly important part of that public debate is occurring on the Internet.

It is not yet clear what role the Internet is having in real politics in Morocco, but one thing is certain: political organizations as well as activists are beginning to rely more and more on social media. The Arab revolutions may have played some part in this evolution.

This post is part of our special coverage Morocco Protests 2011.

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