October 08, 2016 - 5:02 AM
RABAT, Morocco - The moderate Islamist Party of Justice and Development has won Morocco's national elections, according to official results released Saturday, despite frustration with its handling of the economy in its five years leading the government and a challenge from a party close to the royal palace.
The Interior Ministry said that the PJD won 125 of the 395 seats in the Chamber of Representatives. The Party of Authenticity and Modernity, founded by an adviser to the king, won 102 seats, and several other parties shared the rest of the seats.
No party won a majority in Friday's vote, so the PJD will likely need to create a coalition government. The party won elections in 2011 for the first time, riding a wave of Arab Spring protests demanding political reform and less centralized power within the hands of the royal palace.
"Today democracy won," Prime Minister Benkirane said as the results were coming in. "After leading the government for 5 years, after implementing reforms, after its achievements, after carefully managing the budget and reforms with the retirement fund ... after widening health care coverage, after all of this — thanks be to God — today, the Moroccan people have given the PJD a victory."
Worries about youth joblessness, high debt and Islamic extremism were on many voters' minds. The results are being closely watched by Morocco's neighbours, who see it as a model of relative stability and prosperity in the region, and are important for Morocco's allies in the West, who have investment deals with the North African nation and share intelligence in fighting the Islamic State group.
With high unemployment and relatively low literacy, Morocco has been fertile recruiting ground for extremists. As many as 1,000 Moroccans have joined the ranks of IS in Iraq and Syria, and earlier this week authorities dismantled a cell of women linked to IS allegedly plotting an attack on election day.
Benkirane's PJD has dominated parliament since the last legislative elections in 2011, and led a government coalition composed of several parties with differing ideologies.
PJD voter Khalid Lamlagh, a 34-year-old tour guide, summed up many voters' views: "There is no other party that is better than them," he said, but added, "we hope that they will do much better than the last five years."
The palace pledged to loosen control over Moroccan politics after Arab Spring protests five years ago, but still retains control over major policy decisions — prompting many Moroccans to ignore the elections. Turnout was slightly lower than in the past national elections in 2011, at 43 per cent.
Ninety of the chamber's seats were reserved for women and youth chosen proportionally from the lists of the winning parties.
Reports and videos surfaced online about alleged voting violations, including ballot stuffing, votes cast under the names of dead people, and authorities blocking a road to a voting site. The Interior Ministry issued statements denying most of the claimed irregularities, but said it was investigating others. Some 4,000 Moroccan and international observers were monitoring the elections.
Andy Drake and Nadine Achaoui-Lesage in Rabat contributed to this report.
News from © The Associated Press, 2016