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Morocco heads to the polls Friday, and yet there is hardly any trace of the looming general election in the sprawling port city of three million.
Campaign posters are few and far between, restricted to authorised locations. A handful of campaigners go door-to-door, canvassing for the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM), which hopes to oust the ruling Justice and Democracy Party (PJD).
The local branch of Istiqlal, one of Morocco’s oldest parties, is eerily deserted.
The apparently muted campaign reflects widespread disillusion with political parties in a country where the monarchy still wields considerable power and low turnout rates are common. During the last election in 2011, 55% of eligible voters failed to cast their ballots. The previous vote, in 2008, saw abstention reach 63%.
‘They just talk and do nothing’
Like many Moroccans, Kamal Salmi and his wife Hind Benkirane plan to shun Friday’s polls. “We don’t trust the parties; they just talk and do nothing,” says this Casablancan couple while strolling on the city’s famed seaside promenade. “We voted for many years, but nothing ever happened.”
Salmi, a salesman and father of two, is worried about his children’s future. “Politicians should have other priorities, such as the health services. What is going on in our hospitals is catastrophic,” he says. “Education is another problem. Poor families have to send their children to state schools, which are not good. We pay for our children to attend a private school. We don’t expect anything from the state.”
His view is shared by 50-year-old housewife Zina Bacri, whose son is one of many Moroccan youths struggling to find work despite a university degree. “My son has been at home for the past three years, unable to find a job,” she says. “Nothing ever changes, so I’m not going to vote.”
Bacri hasn’t always ranked among the country’s numerous abstentionists. In 2011, she cast her ballot in favour of Abdelilah Benkirane’s PJD, which won its first-ever general election. But five years on she is disappointed with the moderate Islamist prime minister. “I believed in his promises. I thought things would get better, but all he has done is serve himself,” she says.
‘All I know is that I want change’
Morocco’s moderate Islamist government has won plaudits abroad for pushing an austerity programme that has helped overhaul public finances. But curbing public sector jobs, cutting subsidies and other benefits that Moroccans have enjoyed for years have resulted in protests and strikes.
Nizar, another disillusioned PJD voter, claims the ruling party has lost a lot of support. “The projects they launched benefited investors, but not ordinary people,” says the fashionably dressed 40-year-old. “It makes little difference whether I vote or not – in the end we always end up with the same wheeling and dealing.”
The disenchantment is just as palpable among the youths of Casablanca. Amine, Aya and Samir, three friends in their 20s, appear suprised when asked whether they will vote in the election. “Of course not!” they say in unison. Amine adds that the money used to organise elections would be better spent helping the people.
Disillusion has turned to bitterness for Kamel Ajdour, a car park warden who struggles to make ends meet. Ajdour is 30, but looks a lot older. “Look at the state I’m in,” he says. “If I fall ill or stop working, nobody will help.”
Ajdour says the sprawling suburbs of Casablanca bear witness to Morocco’s mismanagement by unscrupulous politicians. “We always have the same problems of poverty and unemployment,” he complains. “Politicians win elections and then we never see them. I don’t vote because they never do anything.”
Amid the prevailing apathy and resentment, it is hard to find any motivated voters. Mohammed Allali, a businessman in his 60s, is one of the few enthusiasts. “Obviously I’ll vote!” he declares with a smile, though he is yet to decide who for. “All I know is that I want change. Why not elect people who have never governed before?”