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.