Morocco aims to reduce socio-economic inequality

 

Morocco has identified the reduction of social inequality as a key political priority, setting in motion a series of related reforms that are expected to gain traction in the coming years. July 2019 marked the 20th anniversary of King Mohammed VI's ascension to the throne. In a commemorative speech, he called for the creation of a commission to reform the country's development model in light of ongoing economic and social inequality, and for government leaders to continue addressing these issues. A new government, led by Prime Minister Saad-Eddine El Othmani, was announced in October 2019 following a ministerial reshuffle, and the commission held its first meeting in December 2019.

Political Structure

Morocco is a constitutional monarchy, which underwent significant political reforms after a new constitution came into force in July 2011. Although the monarchy remains the most influential player in the country's political and legal system, the Parliament and elected representatives gained some powers and privileges.

Under the 2011 constitution the king remains the head of state and must appoint the head of government, who is required to be a member of the party that gained the most votes in the most recent legislative elections. The king is also responsible for appointing government ministers, on the recommendation of the head of government.

The head of government presides over the Council of Government, which meets to discuss public and sectoral policies. Separately, the king presides over the Council of Ministers, which is composed of the head of government and ministers, and holds responsibility for high-level strategic matters, including those related to constitutional amendments, organic laws, military strategy and decision-making in the event of war or conflict. The Council of Ministers oversees the appointment of government positions such as the ambassadors, governors and the head of the Bank Al Maghrib, the country's central bank.

While the government is responsible for the execution of laws and manages the country’s regulatory and administrative bodies, the king maintains control over defence and security policy. The king is charged with the appointment of military officers and presides over the Superior Council of Security, which is composed of key government officials including the head of government. This council coordinates strategies related to internal and external security as well as the management of crisis situations. The king remains the highest religious authority in the country as Amir Al Mu’minin, or Commander of the Faithful.

The king also plays an important role in the country's judicial system and is responsible for ensuring the judiciary is independent. To that effect, the king presides over and appoints five of the 20 members of the Superior Council of the Judicial Power, which is charged with enforcing judicial independence. The king appoints six of the members of the Constitutional Court, while Parliament appoints the remaining six. The king selects the president of the Constitutional Court from its constituent members. The Constitutional Court grants opinions on matters such as the constitutionality of laws adopted by Parliament, which can also be modified by decree.

Parliamentary Chambers

The kingdom has a bicameral Parliament, consisting of the lower house, Although the monarchy remains the most influential player in the country’s political and legal system, the Parliament and elected representatives gained some powers and privileges after a new constitution came into force in July 2011 Majlis Al Nuwab (House of Representatives) and the upper house, Majlis Al Mustasharin (House of Councillors or Advisers). Policies must be debated in both chambers, but only the Majlis Al Nuwab can vote on them. The vote of an absolute majority in favour of a policy by the Majlis Al Nuwab expresses the chamber’s confidence in the government, which is required before it can be implemented. The Majlis Al Nuwab is composed of 395 members, 305 of which are directly elected for five-year terms. The remaining 90 seats are filled by members elected at the national constituency level, with 60 seats reserved for women and 30 reserved for those under the age of 40. The Majlis Al Mustasharin has 120 seats elected indirectly by local government representatives, which are held for six-year terms. Electoral colleges comprising representatives from various institutions decide the remaining seats. An electoral college from selected professional associations selects 20 members, while 20 more are selected by employee representatives and eight are chosen from employer organisations.

Monarchy

In recent years King Mohammed VI has focused his speeches on addressing the country’s social and economic inequality. In a speech made on July 23, 2019 he called for the creation of a commission to propose changes to the country’s development model by examining issues related to the constitution, regionalisation and the Moudawana (family code), citing poverty and inequality as the reason for this much-needed update.

The Special Commission on the Development Model, which comprises 35 individuals from a variety of different professional and academic backgrounds, convened for the first time in December 2019 in Rabat, chaired by Chakib Benmoussa, the Moroccan ambassador to France. The special commission is expected to submit its findings and recommendations to King Mohammed VI by the summer of 2020.

King Mohammed VI’s reign has been characterised by a focus on social and economic development. He has played a key role in initiating several liberalising reforms, among the most significant of which was the creation of the country's new constitution in 2011, amid a climate of political and social unrest. Despite these reforms, some civil society organisations are advocating for additional changes, largely related to human rights and freedom of the press.

In July 2019 King Mohammed VI celebrated the 20th anniversary of his accession to the throne following the death of his father King Hassan II, who had ruled since 1961. He is the third monarch to rule Morocco since it gained independence from France in 1956. The Moroccan royal family is known as the Alawite dynasty, and the king is considered to be a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad.

Royal speeches have frequently prompted the government to take specific actions as well as guided broad policy objectives. For example, the 15-year strategy to reform the education system, which was launched in 2015, cites several royal speeches as referential guidelines. Similarly, the new education framework law passed in August 2019 was spurred by a call from King Mohammed VI in early 2016.

Politics

In October 2019 Morocco announced a ministerial reshuffle and a reduction in the number of ministerial posts, from 39 to 24. The reshuffle came at the request of King Mohammed VI, who, in July 2019, directed Prime Minister Saad-Eddine El Othmani to submit a list of proposals for a new cohort of government ministers. King Mohammed VI indicated that new government officials with fresh perspectives were needed to implement policies to reduce social inequality and update the country’s development model. Notably, the incumbents representing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the Ministry of Economy and Finance, the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Justice kept their positions. The Justice and Development Party (Parti de la Justice et du Développement, PJD), a moderate Islamist party that currently has the largest number of seats in Parliament, kept seven posts in the reshuffled government. The PJD was founded in the 1960s and is committed to maintaining the country's constitutional order and democratic process.

The new government is the second to be led by Prime Minister El Othmani, who was appointed in March 2017. Prior to holding this position, he was the minister of finance between 2012 and 2013, and secretary-general of the PJD from 2004 until 2008. Prime Minister El Othmani was appointed after his predecessor, Abdelilah Benkirane, was unable to form a coalition government after five months of negotiations between the PJD and other parties.

In the 2016 legislative election the PJD won a plurality of seats in Parliament, giving it the right to appoint the prime minister from its ranks. The PJD won roughly 28% of the national vote, or 125 of the 395 seats in the Majlis Al Nuwab. The Authenticity and Modernity Party (Parti de l’Authenticité et de la Modernité, PAM) was the second-largest party, with around 21% of the vote, or 102 seats, and the Arab nationalist Istiqlal (Independence Party) won 11%, or 46 seats. However, the PJD opted to form a coalition government with smaller parties, such as the National Assembly of Independents, the Popular Movement, the Constitutional Union, the Socialist Union of Popular Forces, and the Party for Progress and Socialism (Parti Pour le Progrès et du Socialisme, PPS). Notably, the PPS left the ruling coalition following the October 2019 government reshuffling due to disagreements with its coalition partners.

Political Parties

Although the PJD has been the dominant political party in Morocco since it won a plurality in the 2011 election, the PAM and Istiqlal still hold considerable influence in the country's political system. Under the 2011 constitution PAM and Istiqlal are granted certain rights and privileges as members of the parliamentary opposition. These include airtime on official media outlets, allocated proportionally to their representation in Parliament; access to public funds; and participation in the election process for the Constitutional Court.

The PAM, which chose its name to evoke King Hassan II's priorities of modernisation and respect for tradition, was founded in 2008 in opposition to the PJD and is widely considered loyal to the monarchy in terms of its legislative agenda. Istiqlal, meanwhile, was founded in 1944 and is a conservative party affiliated with the Centrist Democrat International, an organisation of centre-right political parties.

The next elections for members of the Majlis Al Nuwab are scheduled to take place in October 2020, while members of the the Majlis Al Mustasharin are set to be elected in October 2021.

Socio-Economics

The country saw an outbreak of political protests in 2016, largely concentrated in the north-eastern Rif region and surrounding areas. Following this unrest, the king blamed the government for socio-economic failings, resulting in a more concerted effort from the state to improve public services in order to reduce inequality.

To this end, in August 2019 Parliament approved a new education framework law aimed at improving the quality and accessibility of public education. The new legislation enforces the objectives of the 15-year plan to reform the country's underperforming education system. The plan seeks to address challenges in equipping students with adequate language skills, the economic difficulties faced by graduates and other shortcomings associated with the national education system. Meanwhile, in response to failings in the country's health care system, 13 new hospitals were constructed in 2018 with a combined capacity of 1085 beds. These came as part of the government's plan for the sector's development, known as Santé 2025, or Health 2025.

The government is expected to continue its focus on reforming the education and health sectors under its strategy to reduce social inequality. According to the 2020 budget statement, the government plans to allocate a total of Dh91bn ($9.5bn) to the health and education sectors. Specifically, Dh72.4bn ($7.5bn) has been earmarked for education and the remaining Dh18.6bn ($1.9bn) will go towards expanding health services.

At the same time, steps are being taken to improve quality of life in Morocco through an agreement to raise public and private sector wages. In April 2019 the government, trades unions and the General Confederation of Moroccan Enterprises signed a deal to raise the private sector minimum wage by 5% in July 2019 and 5% in July 2020. Under the same agreement, private sector employees will receive a gradual net increase in monthly salary of up to Dh500 ($52.10), based on pay scale. The deal also raised family allowance by Dh100 ($10.40) per child.

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