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Parties up pressure on Moroccan King for reform

February 24, 2011

By Souhail Karam

RABAT (Reuters) – Two of Morocco’s biggest political parties and human rights groups have joined calls by a youth movement for constitutional reform that could reduce the role of the king.

Most Moroccan political parties boycotted a February 20 nationwide protest calling for the adoption of a parliamentary monarchy, the dismissal of the coalition government and the dissolution of parliament.

The march, in 53 towns and cities, was organised by the February 20 Movement for Change, and was joined by youths of the banned Islamist Justice and Charity opposition group. The

Interior Ministry said 37,000 people took part in the protest while organisers put the number at 300,000.

Morocco’s King Mohammed said on Monday he would not cede to “demagoguery”.

The Popular Movement Party will soon begin talks with other parties over demands for reforms to be included in a memo to be sent to the king, its leader Mohand Laenser said.

“We want to pinpoint the reforms that are needed … The constitutional reform is the biggest of reforms,” Laenser told Reuters.

“There are some aspects of the constitution that need reform but we don’t necessarily agree with what’s being floated,” He said, but declined to elaborate.

A statement from the politburo of the Socialist Union of the People’s Forces (USFP) also demanded a “constitutional and institutional reform that ensures separation and balance between powers to enable institutions” to fully play their roles.

Both USFP and Popular Movement are part of the coalition government. Popular Movement, which draws most of its support base from indigenous Amazigh, won 41 seats at the last parliamentary elections in 2007 while USFP took 38 seats. There are 325 seats in the Moroccan parliament.

Political parties in the North African country of 33 million people have increasingly been losing touch with a predominantly young population due mainly to their ageing leadership and a perceived inability to offer solutions that would boost access to equal opportunities and alleviate poverty.

Only 37 percent of eligible voters took part at the last parliamentary elections in 2007, one of the lowest in record.

A network of Moroccan human right groups, which includes the independent Moroccan Human Rights Association (AMDH), said on Wednesday it would “support all forms” of militant action the February 20 Movement for Change leads.

Morocco is a Western ally with a growing economy and a king who has managed to drastically improve the dark legacy of human rights abuses, poverty and illiteracy after the 38-year rule of his late father King Hassan.

Morocco is officially a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament. But the constitution empowers the king to dissolve the legislature, impose a state of emergency and have a key say in government appointments including the prime minister.

The country is seen by some experts as less susceptible than neighbours to the unrest sweeping through the Arab world.

While demands for constitutional reform have been around for decades, this was the first time they have been embraced by a broad spectrum of Moroccans, from apolitical youths to leftists to Islamists and the indigenous Amazigh, commentators say.

Officials say Morocco’s commitment to reform has never been stronger than under King Mohammed. As a member of the Alaouite dynasty that has ruled Morocco for some 350 years and claims descent from Prophet Mohammad, the king is considered sacred by the constitution.

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