/ 27 November 2006

Moroccan monarch’s powers in the spotlight

Moroccans are currently engaged in a debate about the possibility of reducing the constitutional powers of their king — this after a collective of NGOs issued an appeal titled For a New Constitution That Works.

”The demands of reforming action … call, on one hand, for a more autonomous government and for strengthened prerogatives in the determination and the conduct of general politics,” states the appeal.

It also speaks of the need for Parliament to be able to investigate and control the executive — and for an independent judiciary.

”We have bumped against problems of governance that … require independent and responsible institutions, hence the necessity of constitutional reform,” said Azzedine Akesbi, a representative of Transparency Morocco. This local chapter of Transparency International, an anti-corruption NGO based in Berlin, is one of the groups that signed the appeal.

There is a pressing need in Morocco to clarify the roles of each government institution and responsibilities of political figures, irrespective of rank, to ensure accountability for political actions, he said.

According to Mohamed Sebbar, president of the Truth and Justice Forum, a movement made up of erstwhile detainees and victims of human rights violations during the reign of former King Hassan the Second, ”there exists in the present Constitution a concentration of powers in the hands of the monarch”. (Hassan’s son, King Mohammed the Sixth, is currently on the throne.)

Under article 19 of the Constitution, Sebbar said, the king can exercise executive power; be at the head of the Council of the Magistrature; legislate between the two parliamentary sessions; name high officials, ambassadors and the likes — and declare a state of emergency.


Similar words come from certain politicians.

”The anticipated political reforms should go in the direction of reducing the king’s prerogatives, to strengthen the powers of the government [and] of the Chamber of Deputies [Parliament],” said Ahmed Sbai, a legislator and member of the political bureau of the opposition Unified Socialist Party (PSU).

The goal, he said, is to ”arrive at an equilibrium between the different political institutions in Morocco, and to realise — consequently — a real democratic transition.”

In fact, the PSU even aspires to a parliamentary monarchy where the king would reign but not govern. At a practical level, this would require the strengthening of the office of the prime minister and other institutions. However, other political parties see no need for a reduction of royal powers.

”The main thing required is a better articulation of the constitutional powers of the king, government and Parliament — for a more democratic, stronger and more effective state,” said Khalid Naciri, a senior member of the Party for Progress and Socialism.

”The king must remain … endowed with the historical and political legitimacy that is his,” he said, noting, however, that there is also a need for greater constitutional recognition of the international commitments of Morocco concerning human rights. But, will such an approach find a sympathetic ear?

Najib Ba Mohamed, professor of law at the University of Fès in the centre-north of the country, said: ”The history of constitutional revision is very much that of the search for a constitutional pact negotiated between the monarchy and political forces. But, times have changed, and Moroccans are more and more demanding.”

Others are less preoccupied by how a new Constitution might redistribute powers. For his part, Ahmed Arehmouch — a member of the Amazigh Network — is concerned by the extent to which it will entrench cultural and linguistic rights.

Amazigh is spoken by the Berber community in Morocco, where a movement is afoot to have it given constitutional recognition as an official language, as with Arabic. — IPS