Could El-Othmani end Morocco’s deadlock?

Morocco’s Justice and Development Party endorsed the king’s choice for el-Othmani, but suggested it won’t soften approach to talks with potential partners.

King Mohammed’s appointment of a dovish figure from the Justice and Development Party (PJD) to replace Prime Minister and PJD leader Abdelilah Benkirane may not immediately end a five-month long political deadlock over cabinet formation, said al-Jazeera in a report it has published citing analysts.

On Friday, King Mohammed VI named the former foreign minister – and PJD’s second in command – Saad Eddine el-Othmani, to replace Benkirane. The royal statement said the decision to remove Benkirane complied with “the spirit and the wording of the constitution” evoking his “concern to overcome the current state of inertia” five months after PJD won a parliamentary election last October.

According to Abdelali Hamieddine, a prominent member of PJD’s national council, coalition talks will resume within days. Hamieddine noted that PJD’s national council cleared Benkirane of responsibility for the failure of the talks. “Benkirane played a key part in helping PJD secure this string of election wins. Some wanted to strip PJD of one of its key strengths, now he’s gone,” Hamieddine said on Sunday.

PJD has been running a coalition government since 2011. It won 125 seats in the 395-seat House.

Under Morocco’s election law no party can win an outright majority in parliament making coalition governments a necessity. Despite five months of intense negotiations, the PJD failed to form a majority.

Benkirane proposed to rebuild his outgoing coalition, an alliance comprising a range of parties including other Islamists, liberals and ex-communists.

However, two of the junior partners in the outgoing coalition, National Rally of Independents (RNI) which has 37 seats, and Popular Movement (MP) with 27 seats, insisted on including smaller political parties. PJD called it an attempt to pervert the outcome of the ballot box, threatening to dilute its hold on government policies.

PJD has made enough “concessions”, Hamieddine said.

On Saturday, at the end of an emotionally charged meeting of its national council, PJD endorsed the king’s choice for el-Othmani. It emphasised the “urgent need to form a government in compliance with the king’s instructions”, the party also suggested that it will not soften its approach to talks with potential partners.

“(It has to be a) government that enjoys strength, harmony and efficiency and which takes into account the constitutional provisions and will of the people as it was expressed in the last parliamentary election,” PJD said in a statement.

Ahmed el-Bouz, a political science lecturer at Rabat’s King Mohammed V University, said Benkirane enjoyed an unprecedented popular following as he deftly used plain language to dissect Morocco’s murky politics to the public without encroaching on the respect due to the king.

“He differentiated between the king and his aides. He also gave a voice to the role of prime minister and PJD’s string of political victories has emboldened him and brought PJD closer to being the only political force the monarchy has to reckon with,” el-Bouz said.

“The history shows the state has never lost a battle to a political party,” he added.

Leaders of the RNI and the Popular Movement welcomed el-Othmani’s appointment and praised his personal qualities being a “man of consensus” as an asset that will help with a speedy formation of the government.

But Hamieddine said that “everything now hinges on the other parties”. “If they abandon their preconditions we can have a government within days. If they stick to them, the government will not see the light of day.”

A career psychiatrist, 61-year-old el-Othmani was PJD’s secretary-general from 2004 until 2008.

“Under el-Othmani, PJD now stands as strong as it was under Benkirane. The problem is not whether it is Benkirane or el-Othmani who is prime minister. Each one of them has his style, but the party line is one,” Hamieddine said.

In a show of support for the party’s secretary-general Benkirane, PJD’s national council decided to delegate to the party’s General Secretariat “all the necessary decisions to accompany” el-Othmani during the new round of talks he is expected to conduct with potential partners.

Ali Anozla, editor of the independent website, Lakome, said the recent developments do not bode for a quick end to the deadlock. “The writing on the wall suggests we may well see a second phase of the deadlock … This is a new episode in the process aimed at normalising PJD.

“It will be very difficult to find someone who can fill Benkirane’s shoes, his charisma and communication skills. It may lose PJD some support,” Anozla said in a telephone interview.