Tag Archive: King Mohammed


Turnout key as Moroccans vote on king’s reforms

Thousands of people gather as they take part in a rally to support the government's project for constitutional reform during a peaceful protest in Casablancahttp://news.yahoo.com/turnout-key-moroccans-vote-kings-reforms-091824853.html

RABAT (Reuters) – Moroccans voted on Friday in a referendum on a revised constitution offered by King Mohammed to placate “Arab Spring” street protesters and the “yes” camp was tipped to win despite boycott calls by opponents.

The new charter explicitly grants the government executive powers, but retains the king at the helm of the army, religious authorities and the judiciary and still allows him to dissolve parliament, though not unilaterally as is the case now.

That falls far short of the demands of the “February 20” protest movement, which wants a parliamentary monarchy where the king’s powers would be kept in check by elected lawmakers.

However the movement so far has not attracted the mass support of popular uprisings that toppled the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt. It urged Moroccans to boycott the vote and said a low turnout would back their calls for more radical reforms.

Turnout stood at 26 percent by midday local time (1100 GMT), according to the interior ministry. Preliminary results were due to be announced late on Friday, a ministry spokesman said.

“I voted ‘yes’ because we have to obey the Commander of the Faithful,” retired agriculture ministry engineer Samira Denguir said in the middle-class Hassan suburb of the capital Rabat, referring to the king’s religious role.

“A large ‘yes’ vote with a high abstention rate or spoiled ballots is not a great result, and the monarchy, Makhzen and (political) parties know it,” said Lise Storm, senior lecturer in Middle East politics at the University of Exeter in England.

The Makhzen is the royal court seen by many Moroccans as a largely unaccountable and shadowy political and business elite.

The 47-year-old ruler has had some success in repairing the legacy of human right abuses, high illiteracy and poverty he inherited after his late father’s 38-year rule ended in 1999.

WESTERN ALLY

A staunch Western ally, Morocco under King Mohammed has stepped up cooperation against terrorism and illegal migration, notably with the European Union which is keen to avoid the spread of Islamic militancy along its southern shores.

But while his personal popularity is expected to swing many voters in favor of the reforms, the margin of victory could be eroded by resentment at wide disparities between rich and poor, and a sense of alienation from the political elite.

“I’m not voting because I couldn’t get my voter card and to be totally honest I couldn’t care less. If they really mean good they would have done it years ago,” said market trader Younes Driouki, 29, heading to the beach with his surfboard.

Results of an online poll conducted by independent portal Lakome.com showed 52 percent of 51,200 participants saying they would boycott the referendum. The vast bulk of the rest said they would vote in favor, but such a low turnout would raise questions about the credibility of the exercise.

Some 13 million people registered to vote — more than 6 million fewer than the 19.4 million Moroccans over 19 years old in a 2009 census. Moroccans above 18 are eligible to vote.

Hamid Benchrifa, an analyst from the Social Development Agency, said the disparity may be due either to voters not updating their identity cards after changing address, or a simple lack of interest in politics.

The February 20 movement has brought together Islamists bent on setting up an Islamic caliphate and secular left-wingers focusing on what they see as rising levels of corruption.

They say they will continue their common fight for a system of parliamentary monarchy and more curbs on the king’s powers.

(Editing by Mark John and Mark Heinrich)

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Moroccan unions win wage hikes as protests grow

RABAT (Reuters) – Morocco has agreed to raise public sector salaries in a handout estimated at more than $5 billion over three years as demands for reform put pressure on the Arab world’s longest-serving dynasty.

State television channel RTM said on Tuesday Prime Minister Abbas Al Fassi had signed a draft memo with unions over the wage deal as well as an increase in the overall minimum wage.

It is the latest in a series of handouts as King Mohammed’s government tries to prevent a spillover of popular revolt from other north African countries. Thousands of Moroccans marched peacefully on Sunday to demand reforms.

“This is quite generous,” said Mustapha Khalfi, editor of Attajdid newspaper, mouthpiece of the main opposition party, which is linked to a union that took part in the talks.

He estimated the total government cost at 43 billion dirhams ($5.4 billion) over three years and said it would be financed in part by a reduction of 10 percent in spending by all government ministries and some other state bodies.

State television said public sector employees would get a net 600 dirhams ($80) per month increase as of May 1. The minimum pension for public and private sector pensioners would go up almost 70 percent to 1,000 dirhams per month.

The minimum wage for private sector employees would be raised by 10 percent from July and 5 percent at the start of 2012, it added. The current minimum wage is 2,110 dirhams.

Finance ministry officials could not be reached for comment on the potential cost of the package.

State television also quoted Agriculture Minister Aziz Akhennouch as saying the debt of 100,000 farmers would be lowered and rescheduled.

Agriculture is the top employer in the country of more than 32 million.

SUBSIDIES

Morocco, which unlike other Arab monarchies has no oil and natural gas of its own, almost doubled funds allocated to subsidies in February to counter an increase in global commodities prices and rising food costs.

The government has also promised jobs in the public sector for 4,300 graduates and higher wages and benefits to its 47,000-strong auxiliary forces, used to tame protests and fight riots.

Khalfi said the latest handout would not end demands for change. His paper speaks for the main Justice and Development opposition party, a moderate Islamist entity affiliated to a union which was part of the wage talks.

“People’s expectations, like anywhere else in the Arab world, are very high and the majority is silent and watching how far the government will give. But there are pockets of resistance to serious change,” Khalfi said.

The youth-led February 20 Movement has been putting King Mohammed and his government under pressure to reform a political system that critics say puts too much power in the hands of the royal court at the expense of elected officials.

On Sunday, thousands responded to the group’s call for a third day of peaceful protests in three months.

Analysts had been expecting the government to speed up an agreement with the unions ahead of Labour Day, May 1, when the February 20 Movement has said it will join trade unions in their marches.

“The number of those taking part in the protests organized by the movement is not declining,” said political analyst Ahmed el-Bouz. “What is interesting is that protests by the movement are attracting people with social and even individual grievances.”

The Alaouite dynasty has ruled Morocco for 350 years.

(Editing by Matthew Tostevin)

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