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Moroccans go to the polls

Moroccans began voting on Friday in a local election where the government of conservatives and socialists aims to limit gains by opposition Islamists and a new party formed by staunch backers of King Mohammed.

It is the second local election of the reform-minded king’s reign. He is widely credited with loosening restrictions on political activity and improving the north African country’s human rights record.

Analysts said the government is hoping for a voter turnout at least higher than the record-low 37% registered in a 2007 legislative election.

”The attention of top government officials and party leaders will be focused on the turnout rate because they are terrified of a boycott and so-called voter apathy,” said Khaled al Harri, a political analyst.

More than 13-million Moroccans are eligible to vote for 130 223 candidates vying for 27 795 seats in 1 503 village and city councils. Analysts forecast a higher turnout in rural areas than in cities.

”Illiterate people will vote more than educated voters,” said political analyst Taoufik Bouachrine. ”The number of voters among the poor will be higher than rich and middle classes.”

The polls opened at 8am and will close at 7pm.

Alternatives
The Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) presents itself as an alternative to what it calls a self-serving elite that enriched itself at the country’s expense and sat back as moral values declined and crime grew.

Rivals say the PJD projects a moderate image but that its grass roots members want to take power to enforce a conservative agenda and rein in personal freedoms.

Analysts will be watching PJD results in Fez, Casablanca, Rabat and other big cities where it competes against candidates linked to the coalition government-led Istiqlal (Independence).

The PJD has slimmer chances in rural areas where family and tribal links often ensure victory for local dignitaries.

The vote will also test the appeal of a new party loyal to the king, which plans to step up opposition to the government.

The Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) presents itself as an alternative to both the Islamists and old parties like Istiqlal.

The government lost its parliamentary majority last month when PAM withdrew its support. PAM’s 46 lawmakers are now in opposition but one of its leaders remains education minister.

The government is in survival mode for now after the king, who wields huge powers as head of state and religious leader, said it should press on with its tasks.

Analysts say PAM sees an opportunity to build support among voters as the government is viewed widely as weak and unpopular. — Reuters

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