Morocco's king regains upper hand with new cabinet

2017-04-08 17:08
King Mohammed VI (File: AFP)

King Mohammed VI (File: AFP)

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Rabat - Morocco's new government is set to be dominated by officials close to the palace despite the premier hailing from the country's ruling Islamist party.

King Mohamed VI on Wednesday announced the new line-up to be led by Prime Minister Saad-Eddine El Othman, second-in-command of the Justice and Development Party (PJD).

Local press on Thursday said the new government was an "unabashed return of an executive monarchy" and a step back for the Islamists who triumphed in October elections.

The PJD then failed to form a majority despite five months of intense negotiations -- the longest time Morocco has been without a government in its recent history.

The Islamist party has lost the key ministries of foreign affairs, interior and defence, as well as Islamic affairs to officials favoured by the palace.

Former interior minister Mohamed Hassad will head the education ministry, which has merged with the former ministry of higher education.

The PJD has been given the less important transport, energy, labour and family affairs ministries.

The National Rally of Independents (RNI), which came fourth in October polls, received the portfolios of economy, industry and agriculture.

The new cabinet "marks the crushing defeat of the Islamists, who had hoped to consolidate their political influence since their victory in the parliamentary elections," news website Le Desk said.

The PJD came to power after the king relinquished some of his near-absolute control following Arab Spring-inspired protests in 2011, with member Abdelilah Benkirane heading a previous coalition government for five years.

It was the first Islamist party to win an election in Morocco and the first to lead a government, raising concerns among many in a country traditionally among the more secular of Arab nations.

Its 2011 win came after the king, whose family claims descent from the Prophet Mohammed and has ruled Morocco since the early 1600s, gave up some of his power after thousands took to the streets in peaceful demonstrations inspired by similar protests in the rest of the region.

The king named Othman premier last month after Benkirane was unable to form a majority.

Political analyst Aziz Chahir says the king has "recalibrated political life" with the new government.

It is one of "compromise between elected representatives with democratic legitimacy and experienced technocrats", he said.

But Abdellah Tourabi, a journalist and academic, said the new government showed "all the conditions and reasons for weakness, incoherence and implosion".

In a country with low voter tournout, the main risk is "installing a climate of distrust and a lack of respect for political institutions," he said.

"The words 'elections', 'vote', 'popular choice'... will all start sounding hollow to Moroccans."

Read more on:    king mohamed vi  |  morocco  |  north africa

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