It should be a moment of excitement: Moroccans are choosing a parliament in elections Friday prompted by the Arab Spring’s clamor for freedom. Yet there are few signs here that elections are even taking place. Posters and raucous rallies for candidates are absent in the cities and instead there are just stark official banners urging citizens to “do their national duty” and “participate in the change the country is undergoing.”
“The parties have presented the same people for the past 30 years, the least they could do is change their candidates,” said Hassan Rafiq, a vegetable vendor in the capital Rabat, who said he didn’t plan to vote. Like elsewhere in the Arab world, Moroccans hit the streets in the first half of 2011 calling for more democracy, and King Mohammed VI responded by amending the constitution and bringing forward elections. But since then the sense of change has dissipated.
The real challenge for these polls, in which an opposition Islamist party and a pro-palace coalition are expected to do well, will be if many people come out to vote in the face of a strident boycott campaign by democracy campaigners. U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said that since Oct. 20 government has taken more than 100 activist in for questioning for advocating a boycott. “Summoning scores of boycott activists in cities around the country to police stations for questioning amounts to a state policy of harassment,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the group’s Mideast director in a statement Wednesday. It’s a sharp contrast to the electric atmosphere that characterized Tunisia’s first free elections just last month.
“Moroccans feel that aside from the constitutional reform, nothing has really changed, meaning that the elections of 2011 will be a copy of the elections 2007 and that is what will probably keep the participation low,” said Abdellah Baha, deputy secretary general of the Islamist Justice and Development Party.