Morocco Votes On Political Reforms Referendum

Jul 1, 2011



Morocco's government says voters there have overwhelmingly passed a series of constitutional reforms which will set new limits on the power of the monarchy. The landslide result was widely expected. As we reported, the reforms would keep Morocco's king as the head of state and ]the military, but the head of government would be a prime minister chosen from the largest party elected to the parliament. Members of the opposition say the changes don't go far enough and are vowing to continue their protests.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro was in Casablanca for election day.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: If you've been following the torturous progress of the Arab Spring revolts, Morocco's democratic push can seem rather modest. There were no calls by the opposition to dethrone Mohammed VI, the 47-year-old king whose family has ruled with almost absolute power here for centuries.

In fact, one of the members of the 20th of February movement, which began a series of protests seeking democratic change in Morocco, is quick to assure me that he likes the king.

Mr. ABU AMAR(ph): (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Twenty-year-old Abu Amar says, I don't have a problem with the king personally. I don't have a problem with the monarchy. I just want a democratic country, a democratic constitution. His group and others allied to it called for a boycott of today's vote.

Abu Amar says the proposed constitutional changes don't go far enough. The king still rules and governs. What Abu Amar wants is a constitutional monarchy.

He complains the process for changing the constitution was opaque and controlled by the king's supporters, and Abu Amar says the government has all but silenced the opposition in the run-up to the vote, using mosques and state TV to push the message.

Mr. AMAR: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Before, there was a complete despotism, Abu Amar says. Now, with this new constitution, it's been dressed up to make it palatable.

But it seems for now this may be the minority view. Today's referendum seems to have been sold to Moroccans as a referendum not on a new constitution but on the monarchy itself.

At a cafe, a group of elder jurists, including one former minister, explained why they are supporting the changes this way.

Mr. MOHAMMAD LUTGERI(ph): (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The king is the king of everyone, says Mohammad Lutgeri. The king, he adds, made the decision himself to devolve some of his powers, and we are happy about that. And that's why we have voted yes, he says, and I think a large part of the population will do the same.

So I'm standing at one of the schools that is doubling as a polling station today, and there is a trickle of people coming in and out of the classrooms where they are casting their ballots for or against these constitutional changes.

And one of the key tests of the legitimacy of this vote is voter turnout, how many people show up to the polls.

By day's end, some 60 percent of registered voters had cast ballots according to the Moroccan interior ministry, a strong showing. And because those who are opposed to the constitutional changes were told to stay away, pretty much everyone who voted voted yes.

ALAL(ph): (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So Alal has just come out and voted, and he says that he voted yes, that the changes are good, not very good, but good enough, and he feels that this is the first step in a process that should continue.

The February 20th Movement and its allies have also vowed to continue their fight for more democratic change in Morocco.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Casablanca. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.