After a decade of presiding over the government, the Justice and Development Party (PJD) failed in the 8 of September elections and returned to its starting point. This break down may be explained by the general context of the elections, the impact of relieving Abdelilah Benkiran from duty on the party’s organizational structure, in addition to the party’s political, economic and social choices contributed to the erosion of its electoral base, leading it to achieve unprecedented results.
There were many alarming indicators of the PJD’s decline both electorally and politically. However, no one expected the decline to be this dramatic, as PJD went from 107 seats in 2011 to 13, indicating that it lost about 90% of its electoral value compared to the last elections.
Relieving Abdelilah Benkiran from forming the government, and attributing this to his party colleague Saad Dine El Otmani, had a significant impact on the party’s coherence. Benkiran’s governmental choices regarding economic, social and identity aspects out raged his electoral base, which coincided with geostrategic issues marked by the regression of parties with Islamic frame of reference especially in Egypt and Tunisia.
This paper aims to understand PJD’s results in the September 8th elections, and to evoke the factors that explain its defeat, in light of the lessons learned from its mandate since 2012[i], as well as its electoral participation during 2011, 2015[ii], and 2016[iii]. Finally, the paper will highlight the ideological, political and organizational challenges facing the PJD in the coming phase.
Change as part of a maintained continuity
The PJD is seen as a moderate Islamist political movement that seeks change from within the institutions, as it rejects violence and calls for political and electoral participation. The integration of this party into the political arena has attracted researchers, who witness edits inception and development with much interest, a dynamic that started in the mid-90’s, through the Moroccan political system’s endeavor to absorb Islamic organizations, where it resorted to mildly integrate[iv] the PJD into the political spectrum, at a time when Al-Adl Wal Ihsane (Justice and Spirituality) was excluded.
In 2012, The PJD managed to preside over the Moroccan government with a total of 107 seats in the House of Representatives in the 2011, November 25, elections. These results would not have been achieved without the unsettled regional context marked by popular protests in many Arab capitals, Tunisia and Libya in particular[v], which share with Morocco not only their belonging to the Maghreb, but also the political, economic and geo-strategic stakes, mainly security and stability.
However, the PJD’s advantage from this context should not conceal the basic fact that it was organizationally ready throughout 2002-2011, as it is usually seen as a highly organized political party independent from the instructions of the Ministry of Interior[vi], and a diligent parliamentary group and a consistent mass base in terms of voting choices and behavior. These aspects formed a general image among PJD presumed voters, especially the middle class, being seen as a different alternative to the political parties that took turns running the Moroccan government, particularly after the drop in electoral participation during the September 7, 2007 elections, which totaled 37%, the lowest since 1997.
The 2021 September 8 elections , has a main objective to remove the PJD from the forefront of the Moroccan political scene and put an end to its electoral dominance, without affecting one of the most important operating rules of the Moroccan political system: change as part of maintaining continuity.
Although the PJD was heading the government at the time, this did not prevent it from heavily criticizing the process of organizing the September 8 elections and their results, especially through amending the electoral laws, by adopting the electoral quotient[vii] on the basis of the number of names registered in the electoral lists and not the number of the actual voters. Second, the PJD declared the negative use of money, and protested against the electoral administration’s abstaining to hand over official records to the party to ascertain the correctness of the results it obtained. The PJD described the results as “incomprehensible, illogical, and does not reflect the reality of the political land scape”[viii], also stated[ix] that the results obtained[x] in the House of Council or selections on October 5, 2021[xi] are invalid.
Gradual Electoral Ascent
The electoral participation of the PJD in the elections organized during1997-2021 went through three major stages:
- Gradual Ascent: 1997-2007, i.e. in ten years, the party moved from 9 seats[xii] to 46, a phase in which the party grew strong, its organizational structure took root, and its ideological and political orientation was shaped.
- Strength and Vigor: 2011-2021, i.e. as shown in the figure below, the party’s results curve continued to climb. During an entire decade, the party headed two successive governments, which is rare in contemporary Moroccan political history. It was also at the forefront of three legislative, communal and regional elections in five years, namely November 25, 2011, September 4, 2015, and October 7, 2016. This enabled the party to obtain a significant number of seats in the House of Representatives, a large voter turnout, and the presidency of the major city councils with a majority (Rabat, Salé, Casablanca Marrakesh, Agadir, Meknes, Fez, Tangier, and others).
Figure 1: Evolution of PJD’s seats: 1997-2021
Source : Data collected by the researcher.
- The Decline: It starts from the moment of the official announcement of the September 8, 2021 elections results, which revealed that the party had obtained 13 seats: 9 seats in the regional electoral districts, and 4 in the local electoral districts[xiii].
The Inability to Cope with Benkiran’s Release from Duty
Abdelilah Benkiran’s release from the duty[xiv]of forming the government on March 15, 2017, was a turning point moment in the political and organizational path of the PJD. It is necessary to return to that moment to have a more integrated understanding of what happened later. This could be metaphorically likened to the sudden eruption of a dormant volcano on September 8, 2021 after years of latency.
The dismissal manner[xv] had psychological and organizational repercussions on the party, as it affected the 2021 elections, when the anger of the party members burst out due to the approach adopted by the party’s leadership in the post-dismissal phase. As a result, the organizational disagreements deepened, and the stark contrast between leaders and party base were revealed. Hence, the party leadership postponed discussing government administration related issues, the result achieved until the October 7, 2016 elections, the impact of government involvement on the party’s cohesion and consistency, the criticism margin to be drawn between the constants of party organization, choices, and the constraints of government leadership, as well as the party’s fulfillment of its obligations to the general electorate, especially those who voted for the party.
The PJD has tended to organize an internal dialogue[xvi] in order to manage the conflicting views on the general perception of releasing Benkiran from duty and its repercussions on the party’s organization. However, the internal dialogue failed to achieve the desired internal partisan reconciliation.
During its 25 years of political involvement, the PJD was headed by only three general secretaries (table 1) ; First, Abdelkrim El Khatib, who headed the party during the transitional period 1996-2004, and later Abdelilah Benkiran and Saad Dine El Otmani in 2004-2021. Therefore, the collective memory of the PJD party base still retains Abdelkrim’s[xvii] mediating roles between the intellectual and political currents that formed the PJD and the Moroccan political system in the 90’s, which culminated in its overseen integration into political and electoral life.
However, being at the core of this collective memory, Abdelilah Benkiran has been profoundly impactful, as he is known to have a charismatic personality[xviii], communication and rhetorical skills, and the ability to mobilize and enthusiastically inspire supporters through his proximity strategy. Yet, his dismissal was psychologically impactful on the party’s electoral results on September 8, 2021. This is evidenced in his choice to steer clear of the September 8, 2021 elections, despite having the party’s acclamation, and not participating in the mobilization in favor of the party, as was the case in previous elections when he was leading major rallies[xix].
Table (1): The national seminars held by the PJD
|Mahjoubi Aherdan||December 1959||Founding Seminar:Founding of the PopularMovement Party|
|Abdelkrim El Khatib||February 1967||Second Seminar:Founding of the Democratic Constitutional People’s Movement Party[xx]|
|Abdelkrim El Khatib||1996||Third Seminar[xxi]:
|Abdelkrim El Khatib||November 1999||Fourth National Seminar|
|Saad Dine El Otmani||10-11 April 2004||Fifth National Seminar|
|Saad Dine El Otmani||July 2006||Extraordinary Seminar[xxii]|
|AbdelilahBenkiran||9-20 July 2008||Sixth National Seminar|
|Abdelila hBenkiran||14-15 July 2012||Seventh National Seminar|
|AbdelilahBenkiran||28 May 2016||Extraordinary Seminar|
|Saad Dine El Otmani||9-10 December 2017||Eigth Natioanl Seminar|
Source : Data collected by the researcher.
Uprooting the party’s identity
The ideological background of the PJD refers to an integrated system of values, constants and practices that have continuously nourished its ethical core, especially since the formation of its major features preceded its involvement in the dynamics of political participation. The PJD built its electoral progress on statements derived from an Islamic reference that is different from what is familiar in the Moroccan political scene, particularly the outer appearance, the style of clothing[xxiii] and the politically and morally bold issues raised in parliament[xxiv].
A model of the religiously devout politician has emerged within the party[xxv], known to be above suspicion in embezzlement of public funds, and to defend the Islamic reference, the Moroccan’s religious identity, and the Arabic language, as well as being at the forefront of all forms of Islamic solidarity, especially when it comes to the Palestinian cause. For this, the fact that Saad Dine El Otmani signed the agreement to resume Moroccan-Israeli relations[xxvi]will remain loaded with denotations, revealing the high political cost that the PJD incurred in order to gain the trust of the Moroccan political system anew, while being unable to strike balance[xxvii]between that and the cohesion of the party at once.
Saad Dine El Otmani’s signature of the normalization agreement between Morocco and Israel had a significant impact on the party. With this decision, El Otmani has wound up a whole journey of centrality of the Palestinian cause to the PJD, particularly as he failed, whether as Head of Government or secretary-general of the party, to explain the reasons for this agreement, its necessity and justifications, despite the intervention of Abdelilah Benkiran[xxviii] to absorb the anger of the party base before the ink could dry.
Although the political pragmatism of both Hamas and the PJD necessitated receiving the movement’s delegation[xxix] by the party leadership months after the signing of the agreement, the PJD was still seen as having « turned away » from the principles and constants upon which it based its entire political and moral project[xxx].
The symbolic capital that the PJD acquired during decades of grassroots action within society has turned into electoral gains, through the steady increase in the number of seats obtained in the House of Representatives elections, especially during the period 1997-2016. However, the qualities that distinguished the party for a period of time dissipated in light of the results of State practice, such as the management of public affairs, the day-to-day encounter with social and economic issues, and the need to come up with solutions to the demands and challenges they pose; all of which have caused the party to lose a large part of its electoral and political capital.
The PJD was faced with popular discontent because of the adopted economic and social policies, especially those related to contractual teaching, raising the retirement age, or high unemployment rates, and managing the economic and social effects of the Covid-19[xxxi]. These political choices have affected large segments of society, whose conditions were expected to change for the better[xxxii].
This had a direct impact on the number of seats obtained in the September 8, 2021 elections,despite the contradiction in the rise in seats obtained by some parties that were key players in the government coalition, mainly during 2017-2021, for example, the National Rally of Independents (a partner party of the PJD in running the government since October 2013[xxxiii]) won the September 8, 2021 elections with 102 seats, knowing that it ran many strategic sectors such as trade, industry, agriculture and investment.
The results obtained by the PJD in the September 8, 2021 elections revealed that the political integration of the aforementioned party has reached its end[xxxiv], which poses three challenges: the ideological aspect, the political aspect and the organizational aspect.
In 2011, the PJD revealed its political vision aimed at fighting corruption and tyranny in The Seventh National Seminar was entitled: Effective Partnership in Democratic Building, and before that the Democratic Struggle[xxxv]. Nevertheless, it turned out that the political vision[xxxvi] of the party had exhausted its purposes following the results of the September 8, 2021 elections. Consequently, the party needed to restructure its theoretical perception in light of the outcome of managing public affairs governmentally and territorially, as well as to draw lessons from electoral participation since 2011, and search for alternative political visions that provide creative answers to the challenges the party faces.
The absence of a coherent political vision that provides answers to various issues will affect the parliamentary work of the PJD, given that the parliament is indispensable for managing the party’s visions and perceptions. Considering the number of seats it obtained, the PJD was unable[xxxvii] to form a parliamentary group in the House of Representatives[xxxviii], where the internal regulations of the latter[xxxix] determine the number of deputies required to form a parliamentary group at20[xl].
This limits the party’s advantages provided by internal regulations[xli] relating to the time allotted for questions and interventions, as well as other aspects of parliamentary work relating to legislation, monitoring of government actions, and evaluation of public policies. Thus, reducing the number of party members in parliament will undoubtedly affect the party’s performance with regard to the practice of the opposition.
Organizationally, it is notable that enthusiasm has dulled among a large number of both the PJD’s base and leadership, although it has always argued that its members have an Islamic frame of reference and are united by the reformism doctrine. Enthusiasm is most evident during the election campaigns, as they are the ideal occasion to promote the party’s political discourse. However, a significant dwindling of party members was observed during the election campaign of September 8, 2021. This was reflected in Benkiran’s refusal to run in Salé, which is considered the electoral strong hold of the party.
It seems that the PJD has returned to the starting point, which will require an intellectual and political effort to evaluate this entire phase, starting from its founding to the elections of September 8, 2021, a process from which it will draw the essential lessons to bring the party to life anew.
[i]The November 25, 2011 elections were exceptionally held ahead of their constitutional date. On November 29, 2011, King Mohammed VI appointed Abdelilah Benkiran as head of government, pursuant to the provisions of Article 47 of the 2011 Constitution. On January 3, 2012, the King appointed members of the government.
[ii]The communal and regional elections of September 4, 2015.
[iii]House of Representatives elections for October 7, 2016.
[iv]For more on this topic, see :
- Mohamed Tozy, Monarchie et Islam Politique au Maroc, (Paris, presses de sciences po, 2 édition, 1999.
- Mohamed Darif, Monarchie marocaine et acteurs religieux, (Casablanca, Afrique Orient, 2010).
- Hassan Aourid, L’impasse de l’islamisme, cas du Maroc (Rabat, Impression El Maarif Al Jadida, 2015).
- Rachid Moktadir, The Political Integration to the Islamist Forces in Morocco, (Doha, Al Jazeera Center for Studies, 1st Edition, 2010).
- Bachir Moutaki, The Islamist Movement and Political Participation in Morocco, the Unification and Reform Movement and the Justice and Development Party as a model, (Casablanca, Najah Pub, 1st Edition, 2009).
[v]This also explains Morocco’s promotion of dialogue among the various Libyan parties.
[vi]With the exception of the pressure that the party faced during the communal elections of September 12, 2003, when it was forced to reduce its electoral participation, and it did.
[vii]Article 84 of the Organic Law No. 04.21 to amend and supersede the Organic Law No. 27.11 relating to the House of Representatives stipulates the following new method for distributing seats : « Seats are distributed among the lists by means of an electoral quotient, which is extracted by dividing the number of registered voters by the number of seats allocated to them. The remaining seats are distributed according to the largest residual base, by allocating them to lists that have numbers close to the aforementioned quotient ». As for the aforementioned bill, as submitted in the House of Representatives’ office on Wednesday, February 17, 2021, article 84 of it did not include the content of the paragraph above, rather, amendments submitted by the opposition groups, the Constitutional Rally and the Popular Movement groups regarding the requirements of the aforementioned article. For more details, Dahir No. 1.21.39 issued on Ramadan 8, 1442 (April 21, 2021) implementing Organic Law No. 04.21 to amend and supersede Organic Law No. 27.11 on the House of Representatives. Official Bulletin No. 6987 – Shawwal 5, 1442 (May 17, 2021).
[viii]Communiqué of the Secretariat-General of the PJD issued on September 9, 2021.
[ix]The PJD’s secretariat communiqué issued on October 6, 2021 described the votes the party obtained in the elections of the House of Councilors as “significantly, strangely, and unacceptably exceed the votes obtained by the PJD or votes it could obtain through its coordination with the Progress and Socialism Party locally. These votes are incompatible to the results announced in the September 8 poll.”
[x]The PJD won 3 seats in the October 5, 2021 elections of the House of Councilors.
[xi]The communiqué issued by the Secretariat-General of the PJD on October 6, 2021 stated that: “It invites the party’s candidates who have been declared “winners” to submit their resignations from the council’s membership in accordance with the legal procedure in force.” However, the three party candidates refused, and hastened to form a group in the House of Councilors under the name: the Social Justice and Sustainable Development Group.
[xii]The PJD won nine seats during the official announcement of the results of the November 14, 1997 elections, and reached 14 seats after winning five other seats in partial elections.
[xiii]Ministry of the Interior, Communiqué on the general results of the legislative, communal and regional elections, published on the website: www.election.ma, last access on: October 1, 2021.
[xiv]Two days after the October 7, 2016, elections, which the PJD won, and in accordance with the provisions of the first paragraph of Chapter 47 of the 2011 Constitution, King Mohammed VI appointed Abdelilah Benkiran as Head of Government for the second time on October 9, 2016. However, he failed to form the government, thus the Royal Court issued a communiqué relieving Benkiran from forming the government, stating that : “In accordance with the constitutional powers of the King, as the guarantor of respect for the constitution and the good functioning of institutions ; and the guardian of the interests of the nation and citizens ; and in order to overcome the current stalemate, he decided to appoint another political figure from the PJD as Head of Government.” The Royal Court communiqué issued on March 15, 2017.
[xv]For more details on the incident of dismissing Benkiran: Bilal Talidi, The Political Earthquake, Politics Dynamics before and after the 7th of October (Casablanca, OkoulTakafawaNacharwaTawize pub, 1st Edition, 2018).
[xvi]For more details on the internal dialogue and its outcomes:
- A paper on the internal dialogue methodology issued by the Secretariat-General of the PJD on March 26, 2018;
- The PJD’s internal dialogue 2018-2019, Conclusions and Recommendations, the PJD’s publications 2019.
[xvii]He passed away on September 28, 2008.
[xviii]The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, How did the elections of September 8 change the political map in Morocco? Situational assessment, Political Studies Unit, September 13, 2021, p. 6.
[xix]The electoral campaign of September 8, 2021 was organized under the measures imposed by public authorities to respond to Covid-19, which greatly affected the usual traditional way of organizing election campaigns such as rallies and hustings, known to be the most effective ways in electoral mobilization.
[xx]The PJD’s roots trace back to the organizational framework provided by Abdelkrim El Khatib through the Popular Democratic Constitutional Movement Party, which he founded in February 1967, after his dispute with Mahjoubi Ahardan (founder of the Popular Movement Party). However, El Khatib’s party was inactive until the authority revived it in the mid-nineties, in preparation for the gradual incorporation of some of the emerging political Islam parties. In 1998, the Extraordinary National Council of the Popular Democratic Constitutional Movement decided to change the name to become since then: the Justice and Development Party (PJD). For more details: Works of the National Council, September 26, 1999, Publications of the Justice and Development Party (2), (Rabat, Top Press, 1999), p. 17.
[xxi]The PJD is an extension of the Popular Democratic Constitutional Movement party founded by Abdelkrim El Khatib, therefore it counts its national seminars from the recent one organized by the former party, a practice that many political parties do. Table No. (2) does not include any analysis linking the roots of the PJD to the Popular Movement and the Democratic Constitutional Movement, on the grounds that the political components that formed what is later known as the PJD are completely different from the two mentioned parties.
[xxii]The Extraordinary Seminar was held in the context of the entry into force of Law No. 36.04 related to political parties and the developments it carried, which made the party hold its Extraordinary Seminar in order to harmonize its Basic Law and by laws with the new legal text, as the first paragraph of Article 62 stipulates that: The political parties founded on the date of publication of this law in the Official Buletin must comply with its provisions within a period of 18 months. For more details: Law No. 36.04, relating to political parties, Dahir No. 1.06.18 issued on Muharram 15, 1427 (February 14, 2006) implementing Law No. 36.04 relating to political parties. Official Buletin No. 5397, Muharram 21, 1427 (February 20, 2006), p. 473.
[xxiii]It was unusual during the October 7, 2016 elections that an unveiled female candidate won a seat on the national list.
[xxiv]Such as raising issues related to the sale of alcohol, opposing banking benefit, refusing to display gambling games in the public media, opposing the concert organization, and defending what they call Islamic dress and devout art. See: Rachid Moktadir, The Political Integration of Islamist Forces in Morocco (Doha, Al Jazeera Center for Studies, Edition 1, 2010), and also: Abderrahman Allal, a reading into the thesis: “The Political Integration of Islamist Forces in Morocco” by Rachid Moktadir. Believers Without Borders Foundation, September 20, 2014.
[xxv]It should be noted that this does not mean the PJD is the only party with this characteristic. The focus of analysis in this study is specifically and exclusively on the PJD.
[xxvi]In addition to Jared Kushner in his capacity as an advisor to the US former President Donald Trump, and Meir Ben-Shabbat as an Israeli national security advisor, on December 22, 2020.
[xxvii]Mohammed Masbah, How Morocco’s Islamist party fell from grace, Chatham House, 14 September 2021.
[xxviii]Abdelilah Benkiran’s argument is that Saad Dine El Otmani’s signed the agreement to resume relations with Israel in his capacity as Head of Government and not as Secretary-General of the party, and that the former capacity dictated his signature. See a video of Benkiran dated December 23, 2020.
[xxix]On July 16, 2021, a delegation of Hamas movement arrived in Morocco, headed by Ismaël Haniyeh, head of the movement’s political bureau.
[xxx]Paradoxically, in the September 8, 2021 elections Abouzaid El Mokrie El Idrissi, one of the leaders of the PJD long associated with defending the Palestinian cause, ran in the district of Mediouna (which belongs to the territorial collectivity of Casablanca-Settat region), but got only 853 votes, and thus did not obtain any seat in the House of Representatives, while in 2016 he obtained 24,687 votes.
[xxxi]Covid-19 has resulted in two government challenges, the first is the economic and social repercussions, and the second relates to the various measures taken to confront them (imposing quarantine, preventing movement, closing various vital social spaces..), which provoked popular discontent against the government, especially the PJD ministers.
[xxxii]Abderrahman Allal, Human Rights in the Perception of Islamist Movements in Morocco: Discourse and Practice, doctoral thesis in Public Law, supervised by Dr. Mohamed Saadi, Academic Year 2018-2019, Faculty of Legal, Economic and Social Sciences, Mohamed I University – Oujda, p. 140.
[xxxiii]It is known that the National Rally of Independents did not become part of the government coalition, alongside the PJD, until October 2013.
[xxxiv]Abdelilah Seti, Punitive VotingTurns the Page of Islamists in Morocco: A Reading of the Contents and Results of the Legislative Elections September 2021, (Beirut, Arab Forum for Alternative Studies, September 2021), p. 7.
[xxxv]The Justice and Development Party, Thesis of the Sixth National Seminar, (Rabat, Top Press, 2009).
[xxxvi]The Justice and Development Party, Thesis of the Seventh National Seminar: “An Effective Partnership in Democratic Building” (Justice and Development Party Publications, Edition 1, 2012).
[xxxvii]Unless this requirement stipulated in the bylaw changes in a way that allows the formation of parliamentary groups with less than 20 representatives, as the first paragraph of Article 59 of the House of Representatives’ bylaws (2017) states that: « Parliamentary groups are formed at the beginning of the parliamentary mandate, and in its third year at the April session for the remainder of the said period ».
[xxxviii]Given the fact that the House of Representatives completed the formation of its bodies on October 11, 2021.
[xxxix]The second paragraph of Article 58 of the House of Representatives’ bylaws (2017) states that: « The number of each team cannot be less than twenty members; of non-affiliated representatives. »
[xl]On the grounds that the parliamentary groups consist of four members or more, as the third paragraph of Article 58 of the House of Representatives by laws (2017) states that: « The number of each parliamentary group cannot be less than four members. »
[xli]The Parliamentary Group for the PJD was unable to obtain membership in the House of Representatives office or any of its nine permanent committees in the elections of the parliament bodies on October 11, 2021.