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Moroccan left hopes to offer 'third way' at polls

30 September 2016, 16:20

Rabat - As campaigning heats up ahead of next week's parliamentary elections in Morocco, Nabila Mounib wants to offer voters an alternative to ruling Islamists and the liberal opposition.

The country's only female party leader, Mounib heads up a leftist coalition that calls for a constitutional monarchy and genuine political reform.

The North African kingdom has long been considered among the most liberal nations in the Arab world.

But its parliament has limited legislative clout, even after King Mohamed VI agreed to a new constitution curbing his near-absolute power in 2011 following region-wide popular revolts.

The Federation of the Democratic Left (FGD) is campaigning for the October 7 poll under the slogan: "With us, another Morocco is possible".

Harmful effects 

In an interview with AFP, Mounib said her movement offers a "third way" between the ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) and the liberal opposition Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM).

"Those two parties don't respond to the aspirations of Moroccans to establish a real democracy," she said.

"We position ourselves between them, and propose the way of genuine political reform via a separation of powers."

Over the last few months, the 56-year-old academic has carved out a prominent space in Moroccan politics with her outspoken criticism of other political parties and the royal palace itself.

She dismissed what she believes is a false dichotomy between conservatives and modernists.

"The party that calls itself conservative (the PJD) has shown that in economic terms it is a follower of neoliberalism with all its harmful effects," she said.

"Meanwhile the other side, abusively called modernist, has never talked of modernity."

Left in disarray 

The FGD is a coalition of three leftist groups including Mounib's Unified Socialist Party (PSU).

It comes from a long tradition of leftist parties which were harshly repressed during the reign of King Hassan II.

King Mohamed VI, who succeeded his father in 1999, took a more lenient stance. But the left has been in disarray for a decade.

"The program of the left is obsolete and has not reinvented itself since the 1980s," said Abdellah Tourabi, a Moroccan columnist and political scientist.

He said leftists in Morocco are intellectually and ideologically stuck in the past, opening the door for more conservative, Islamist parties.

"The left can no longer seduce its historical base, namely the urban middle classes," Tourabi said.

"Another force has taken its place today - the PJD. It wins the most seats in the major cities, where the left used to triumph."

That is a dynamic Mounib hopes to tackle. She was a prominent supporter of Morocco's Arab Spring-inspired February 20 Movement, calling for a parliamentary monarchy.

Mounib says the 2011 constitution did not go far enough -- but that has not entirely alienated her from the palace.

In late 2015, the King sent her on a delicate diplomatic mission to persuade Sweden not to recognise Western Sahara, controlled by Morocco, as an independent country.

The trip was a success, in part thanks to her leftist connections.


Mounib's political ambitions received a boost in mid-September when a local newspaper published an open letter signed by a hundred figures from academia, the arts and civil society, calling on her to turn the FGD into a force for change.

The letter criticised those "who say that reform is possible but continue to work with the corrupt" and "those who call themselves progressives but condone authoritarianism under the cover of fighting religious fundamentalism."

Those words could hit home among Moroccans who are disillusioned with politics. Turnout was just 45 percent at the last poll in 2011, which Mounib's party boycotted.

This time round, with 30 parties competing, the FGD is hoping to end the radical left's long exile and win more than 300,000 votes nationally.

"The echoes are favourable and the surge of sympathy is indisputable," said Omar Balafrej, another figure of the FGD, whose candidates have pledged to pass up on their parliamentary salaries if elected.

In April, Mounib made waves by polling third on a list of politicians most likely to head the next government.

"She has a certain freedom of tone," said TelQuel, the magazine that ran the poll.

"It's more her personality than her programme that seems to raise interest."



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