Morocco’s not nominal but majoritarian electoral system

I have mentioned previously that the Moroccan electoral system, while having the fundamentals of a proportional representation (PR) system, it actually potentially quite majoritarian, on account of low district magnitude. If it fails to produce a large boost to the leading party sufficient for it to win a majority, it must be due to regional disparities, and not to the electoral rules, per se. And, with neither the 2002 nor the 2007 elections having resulted in a leading party with more than 50 of the 325 seats, it is obvious that regionalism is indeed the key.

Normally, our standard typologies of electoral systems conflate nominal systems (candidates win seats based on votes cast for them by name) and majoritarian systems (favoring a large party). They also tend to conflate party-list systems (candidates win by being nominated and ranked–whether by the party or by voters–on a list of candidates over which votes are pooled) with proportional representation. But Morocco’s system is among those that should be a reminder that these conflations can lead us astray. It has the formal provisions–allocation process and ballot format–of a party-list system, but too low a magnitude to be proportional. The low magnitude would appear to increase the chance for a leading-party boost, as majoritartian systems do. Yet the actual outcome, it appears that local and regional elites are more important than political parties, despite the party lists.

Small magnitude and regionalism are much more compatible with nominal voting systems than with party-list “PR” systems, and not only because a nominal system (e.g. FPTP or SNTV) would be more likely to prevent reporters from rushing to the conclusion that “complex” proportional representation must be the reason no party wins a majority (see the first-linked item). A nominal vote system is also more compatible because it works with, rather than against, the grain of a regionally based political process in which, one might presume, local notables are more important than national political parties.

In fact, given that most districts elect only three members, and many of the parties elect only one candidate per district, it is almost nominal: more often than not only the list-head will be elected. Even where two or more might win, it is highly likely that parties assemble their lists with locally known candidates.

Yet there is no sense in which we could classify this regional-elite-enhancing electoral system as “nominal.” The reason was very much apparent to me as I saw a report on the voting on DW-TV’s Journal (via Link-TV): the ballots show only party symbols and party names. Candidate photos or names do not appear on the ballot.

Thus, while there are solid theoretical reasons (and empirical results confirming) that candidates are more likely to have “personal vote-earning attributes,” notwithstanding closed lists, when district magnitude is low, in Morocco the party would have to ensure that the voters knew which candidates were on its list. A voter can’t tell by looking at the ballot, as is the case in a nominal-vote system (almost by definition) or in a closed-list ballot that includes candidate names (as many do, unless magnitude is very high).

Whether this ballot design enhances the voters’ identification with political parties more than an actual nominal system is an interesting question (for which, alas, I have no answer). But Morocco’s actual outcomes (like those of Benin, which I have mentioned previously) look similar to those of a low-magnitude nominal system, yet the electoral system and especially the ballot format are very much party-list in nature.

7 thoughts on “Morocco’s not nominal but majoritarian electoral system

  1. Do you know what allocation method is used in Morocco? With such small districts, it could make a serious difference. In the worst (?) case, a 4-seat district using Ste-Laguë would require the 1st-ranked party to have over three times as many votes as the 4th-ranked party in order to earn a second seat. This would contribute to the tendency for each district to give one seat to each of the N leading parties.

    I don’t know if I’d call such a system “complex”, but this would certainly make majorities harder to achieve. One could imagine a party with just under 60% of votes falling short of a majority. (I tried to actually see if this was feasible using the district magnitudes on Adam Carr’s site, but the data is incomplete–I’m only counting 242 seats for the 2002 election.)

    Incidentally, no discussion of Moroccan elections should fail to mention the way power is divided between the king and the elected representatives. The king has the power to appoint a cabinet, and to dissolve the legislature. (I’m not aware of whether the cabinet must maintain confidence, nor whether a bill can pass over the king’s objection.) I suppose I would describe this as a strong presidential system, except that the “presidency” is hereditary!

    The impotence of parliament can account at least in part for the low turnout, and perhaps the lack of party consolidation as well. If I had the king’s ear, I’d advise him to give the JDP a cabinet position while they’re still not the leading party, to try to close the gulf between the secular and religious parties.


  2. Seats are calculated with the Hare quota, with final seats going to the largest remainders. In this process votes for lists that receive less than 6% of the local vote are disregarded, also, crucially, when establishing the quota. The national seats are calculated in exactly the same way, based on votes cast for all local lists from each party, with a 6% national hurdle. They are non-compensatory. As it turns out then, not a very “complex” system at all.

    Source: Elections Législatives Maroc 2007. This website also contains French versions of the electoral laws for both houses of parliament. Here the aforementioned hurdles are set at 3%, which may indicate that they have been raised quite recently. [Indeed, see the first planting in the Morocco block. And thanks much for the more detailed information here.–MSS]

    Finally, the non-transparency award for September goes to the Moroccan interior ministry, which not only does not seem to publish voting statistics, but also does not seem to have a functioning website at all.


  3. Yeah, the Moroccan ministry website is pretty useless for my purposes. What little information it does contain is of the “How to vote” or “How to get on the voters’ list” type.

    On the other hand, Espen’s comment is just what I needed. Thanks Espen!


  4. The official election website has gotten its act together; detailed results are now available:

    There may in fact be a separate vote for the national women’s lists, since the two national summaries differ.

    By the way, the figures show that the islamist party got more votes than Istiqlal, when the latter got six more seats. I do not know whether this is due to the alleged gerrymandering. As can be expected from the electoral system, this is not the only overall distortion.


  5. MSS, how do you define ‘majoritarian’, then? The way I see it, any system which allocates seats according to parties’ (or candidates’, as in STV) proportion of the vote can hardly be called majoritarian, but perhaps I’m missing the point. Although I would concede that very low district magnitudes may make such a system less than proportional (perhaps semi-proportional), particularly in Chile’s ‘binomial’ case, perhaps also Morrocco, but calling them majoritarian seems to me to go too far – particularly considering that low and even district magnitudes (Chile again) actually make it somewhat harder to get a majority as a supermajority is needed to get a majority in a district.


  6. It is always fun when someone revives an old planting. I did not even remember this one.

    I don’t think I have much to say beyond what was in the original. Majoritarianism is a matter of degree (as noted by Sartori, 1968, in one of my favorite relative early pieces in the electoral systems literature), and if most of your districts elect just three, it’s more majoritarian than proportional, other things equal. You are correct that this more valid with small odd magnitudes than with small even ones (such as M=2 in Chile).


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