With political attentions becoming increasingly focused on the forthcoming legislative and local elections of 2021, there have been renewed calls for voting to be made compulsory.
Such calls are nothing new because demands for mandatory voting have repeatedly been made over recent years and always trigger impassioned debate. Prior to the 2016 elections, many parties — including the Parti Socialiste (PS) and the Parti de la justice et du dévéloppement (PJD) — advocated making voting obligatory. The PS as well as a number of independent MPs went as far as to suggest imposing a fine of MAD500 (US$51) on anyone who failed to cast their ballot. At the time the Interior Ministry was opposed to such moves and the proposal did not gain traction.
However, these calls are getting stronger as next year’s polls approach, not least because of the particularly poor voter turnout in 2016. Turnout was the lowest in the country’s history with only 43% actually casting their votes which was 1.5% lower than in 2011 turnout.
Furthermore, only one third of Moroccans who are eligible, actually register to vote. There is also a high rate of people spoiling their ballot papers or leaving them blank. In 2011 there were around one million spoiled ballot papers.
The electorate is disillusioned…
There is a real fear that the Moroccan electorate is becoming increasingly disillusioned and disengaged with politics. Those calling for mandatory voting argue that this is the best way to get the population more engaged in the Kingdom’s political life.
This includes Mohamed Ojar — a former justice minister and member of the politburo of the Rassemblement national des indépendants (RNI) — who called for voting to be made compulsory during a forum at the Mohamed V University in Rabat this month.
Some parliamentary blocs are also calling for mandatory voting and are arguing that Chapter 30 of the 2011 Constitution states that voting is a personal right and a national duty and want to extend the interpretation of this chapter to make it obligatory.
…but the PJD will seek to delay the move
Despite all this talk, however, there are many in the PJD who see this latest call for mandatory voting as a deliberate attempt by its political rivals to attack and undermine the ruling party. This is despite its support for obligatory voting before the 2016 elections.
The PJD is well-known for being disciplined and well organised and is especially good at mobilising its members and supporters to come out to vote. It tends to be the major beneficiary of the Moroccan public’s current indifference to the political scene. The PJD is well aware that, if mandatory voting is introduced, it would likely fare significantly worse at the polls.
Consequently, the party views these latest calls as a direct attack against its interests. It believes that its opponents are intent on trying to inflict further damage on it at a time when it is already struggling with the COVID-19 crisis and there are calls for the appointment of a purely technocrat government that has no political affiliation.
Despite the PJD’s fears, however, it is unlikely that mandatory voting will be introduced before the 2021 elections. Not only will the PJD do its utmost to block any move in this direction, but the government is likely to be reluctant to approve something that will be viewed by many as a curb on personal freedoms. Also, Morocco is currently not in a position to be able to spend money on what would be an enormous logistical challenge.
As such, the PJD’s opponents will continue to use the issue of mandatory voting as a political tool and a means by which to pressurise the government at a time when it is already vulnerable.