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Does the New Moroccan Constitution Represent a Historical Turn?

The following is a guest post by Issam Saliba, Senior Foreign Law Specialist.

In a speech delivered on June 17, 2011, the King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, outlined the changes that are included in a proposed new constitution, which will be voted on in a referendum scheduled for tomorrow – July 1, 2011.  The King identified ten areas of changes that he described as making the new constitution a “decisive historical turn” on the road to completing the building of a state of rights and democratic institutions and forging a “new historical covenant” between the throne and the people.  The text of the speech is available online (in Arabic).

A number of people who have analyzed the new constitution have argued that the proposed changes are more cosmetic than substantive – except possibly in two areas.

First, the constitution recognizes, for probably the first time, the diversity in the Moroccan society by providing in article 5 that the Amazigh language (spoken by the Berber population) will be an official language in addition to Arabic, and that the state shall protect Hassania (an Arabic dialect spoken by the inhabitants of the Saharan provinces) as an integral part of the unified Moroccan cultural identity.

Second, the constitution seems to contemplate, also for probably the first time, the appointment of a government representing the majority of the voters.  Article 47 restricts the power of the King in the selection process to appointing the head of government from the political party that comes first in the parliamentary election.

However, it is not clear whether the person to be appointed will be selected by the party itself or by the King, or whether the person will be selected from members elected to parliament or from the members of the party at large.  Also, it is not clear what will happen if the party that came first in the number of seats won in the election does not have a majority in parliament – in such an instance what would happen if two or more parties who won lesser seats entered into a coalition and garnered such a majority?  Would the appointment then come from the coalition? If so, from which constituent parties?  These and other questions that the new constitution does not answer make it impossible to determine whether the proposed reforms would result in a more representative democratic government or not.

In addition, the constitution is silent about whether the King has the power to dismiss the government or not.  There are, in my opinion, valid arguments on both sides of this issue.

In conclusion, it may be difficult to describe the changes as “historical” or as constituting a “new covenant” between the throne and the people of Morocco.  There are some that argue that it represents important steps to a more democratic system, while many are concerned that it will result in very little change.

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