Morocco: Women candidates

An item regarding the recent Moroccan elections on Al Jazeera English, originally broadcast 7 September (seen on Mosaic), featured interviews with some of the women running for parliamentary seats.

The story indicated that of the 325 seats, 34 “national posts” are reserved for women. One woman profiled in the segment was Maguy Kajon, described as a leader of a “small liberal party.” The party’s symbol is a bee because “she is ready to sting if need be.” She is also Jewish, and indicates that she is well known as such in the country. While she is interviewed on camera as saying it has never been a “problem” for her to be Jewish, a voice over during images of her handing out leaflets says that she faces challenges convincing voters to vote for her “despite being Jewish.” ((The Jewish Virtual Library page on The Jews of Morocco is interesting. It notes that “at present Morocco has one of the most tolerant environments for Jews in the Arab world.” Nonetheless, the numbers have declined from more than a quarter of a million in 1948 to around 5,500 as of 2003.))

Another woman featured on the segment was Bassima Hakkawi, running as a candidate for the Party of Justice and Development, the Islamist party. She said that:

Voters tend to trust women candidates more than men, but when it comes to casting their ballots, they vote for male candidates. And probably there’s a psychological reason for that.

Probably so. In any event, a report on Abu Dhabi TV (also via Mosaic) on 9 September reported that 34 women were elected. It also said that four ministers and seven “party leaders” (whatever that might mean) lost their seats.

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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.

Moroccan election result

In Morocco’s elections, the Justice and Development Party (PJD), an Islamist movement, gained slightly, but did not end up with a plurality in parliament. It appears to have won 47 of the 325 seats, while the secular conservative Istiqlal party won 52. More from the Guardian:

The center-left Socialist Union of Popular Forces or USFP, which won the last elections in 2002 and ruled together with Istiqlal, dropped to fifth place with 36 seats. The centrist Popular Movement and RNI parties were in third and fourth, with 43 and 38 seats.

A total of 23 parties and five independents will serve in the new parliament, according to the results.

Various news reports before the election had suggested that the PJD would make big gains, perhaps doubling its seats from the 42 it won in 2002. So, while various of the news headlines I saw when searching on this election said things like “Islamists consolidate” their position (true, to the extent that “not much change” can be taken to mean “consolidated”), others that refer to “setback” would be more accurate, based on the pre-election projections (whether those had any real basis or not).

Turnout, at a mere 37%, was the lowest in Morocco’s (short) history of competitive elections.

Morocco elections today

Updated with more information on the electoral system (next to last paragraph).

The Kingdom of Morocco–a semi-democratic regime–has parliamentary elections today. The Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) expects to emerge as the largest party, Reuters South Africa reports.

Then Reuters goes on to say:

But a complex voting system will make it almost impossible for any group to win a majority.

Please excuse me while I scream…

OK, that felt good. What is so complex about the Moroccan electoral system?

It is a pretty standard party-list “proportional-representation” system–as best as I can tell from sketchy information: multi-districted and lists appear to be closed. I am unsure whether the threshold for representation was changed from 3% to 7%, or possibly 6%, as proposed a year ago. If it is now 7% (or even 6%), that’s actually not such standard PR, but it is also neither complex, nor a feature that reduces the chance for a parliamentary majority. In any event, in an electoral system based on many small districts, even as high a threshold as 7% would matter only in the few high-magnitude districts, unless the threshold is like that of Turkey, banning a party from winning a seat it has the local votes for if it has not passed a national minimum. ((Looking at incomplete results for 2002 at Adam Carr’s site, I am guessing it is a threshold of this sort, making Morocco even less typical of PR systems–and more majoritarian. It appears no district had more than 5 seats, meaning a 3% (or even 6% or 7%) threshold at the level of allocation district would have no impact unless fragmentation was extreme. Also, the smallest party on nationwide votes shown to have won seats in these incomplete data had just over 3%.))

According to the Database of Electoral Systems and the Personal Vote, the Moroccan electoral system is of a variant that shouldn’t even be called PR. The average district magnitude, at least as of 2005, is under 4, and while there is a national tier, it comprises less than 10% of the seats. This electoral system would be relatively “majoritarian,” despite employing party lists and a “PR” formula.

It’s not the electoral system–and certainly not any complexities within it–that may result in no party winning a majority of seats. It’s that the voters are divided in their preferences amongst several parties and, almost certainly, that much of that division is regionally based. (Small magnitudes with fragmentation but at least one nationally strong party would make a (manufactured) majority rather likely.)

Moroccan thresholds raised

The September, 2007, parliamentary elections in Morocco are likely to be held under a new electoral law. In July, the government submitted a bill that to impose two higher thresholds against smaller parties compared to the current law:

    (1) Parties that won under 3% of the vote in the 2002 elections would lose their right to compete in the 2007 election, unless they could submit a petition signed by at least 100 people for each candidate on their party list; and

    (2) The threshold for representation in the parliament would be raised from 3% to 7% of the votes in 2007.

The bill was submitted by the government in July and approved by parliament’s Interior, Decentralization and Infrastructures Committee in late November. Under pressure from opposition parties, including the Islamist Justice and Charity group (Al Adl wal Ihsan), parliament amended the bill. Nabil Benabdallah, minister of communications and official spokesman for the Moroccan government, told Al-Hayat that:

the parliament endorsed a new election law that forgoes the three per cent threshold, requires that 100 signatures be obtained from each constituency containing 50,000 to 60,000 voters, and lowers the seven per cent requirement to six per cent.

Benabdallah also claimed that the law “was drafted by political parties in Morocco and not by the state,” and noted that “election laws spark disputes in all democratic countries.” Apparently, final approval is still pending and opposition parties continue to protest the government’s plans.

The electoral system evidently is districted list PR of some form, and the seat-allocation process and districts from 2002 are unchanged in the draft bill. The Islamist party is currently represented by 40 deputies (out of 325) and is expected to do much better in the upcoming elections, possibly even a majority.


Sources: Arab Reform Bulletin and 24 November and 23 December reports from Global News Wire – Asia Africa Intelligence Wire via BBC Monitoring International Reports (accessed through LexisNexis). The quotations come from the latter item.