On Friday, Morocco will hold its second parliamentary elections since the constitutional changes that followed the Arab Spring protests led by the Feb. 20 movement in 2011. The Party of Justice and Development (PJD), a moderate Islamist-oriented party which has led a coalition government since then, seeks to defend its lead against its chief rival, the Party of Authenticity and Modernity (PAM), founded by Fouad Ali El Himma, a close friend and adviser to King Mohammed VI. What’s at stake in this battle? The short answer: not much. There are good reasons to be skeptical that the outcome of the election will alter the political landscape in a meaningful way. Political science wisdom on democratic institutions sheds light on the limitations that confront all political parties in Morocco, whether they gain or lose seats in this week’s elections. Approximately 30 parties compete for the parliament’s 395 seats, 90 of which are reserved for women and candidates under 40. The number of parties complicates alliance formation: To create a coalition, the leading party must bring together parties with differing priorities and constituencies, which is no easy task. Competition weakens parties’ ability to present unified policies.
Coalitions can fall apart because of minor disagreements. In 2013, for instance, disputes over cabinet appointments and economic policies led the conservative Istiqlal Party to withdraw from the PJD-led coalition, prompting a crisis that lasted until the PJD formed an uneasy alliance with the National Rally of Independents (RNI), which PJD leader Abdelilah Benkirane had criticized during the 2011 election campaign.
The low threshold for party participation also encourages new parties to form. Rather than resolving intraparty disagreements, parties may splinter. The creation of new parties, and the overall number of parties competing, makes it difficult for voters to calculate which best represents their interests.