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Opposition vows to rid Morocco of Islamists in Oct vote

30 August 2016, 12:28

Rabat - The main opposition party PAM has vowed to "liberate" Morocco from the scandal-tainted ruling PJD Islamist party as the country gears up for campaigning ahead of a crucial October election.

The liberal PJD - Justice and Development Party - has led a coalition governing the North African kingdom since late 2011 but faces growing opposition from its rival, the Authenticity and Modernity Party.

It is expected to have to fight for its survival on October 7, particularly after a spate of scandals.

These include two PJD vice presidents suspended after being found in a "sexual position" on a beach, a drugs bust involving three tons of cannabis and a dodgy land-grab deal.

Media reports on Monday quoted the PAM secretary general as saying he hopes to win the election and head a new government in order to save Morocco.

Hope for change 

"If the current situation persists, it will lead the country to catastrophe," Ilyas el-Omari was quoted as saying at a weekend congress of the opposition party.

"Moroccans are hoping for the change which the PAM incarnates," he said.

Next month's election was aimed at "saving" and "liberating" the country, he said at the meeting outlining the PAM election programme which is expected to be made public in the coming days.

On Friday, the PJD published a list of the 74 candidates it will field.

They include Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane, who is also PJD secretary general, as well as most of his cabinet ministers who are members of the ruling party.

"The PJD is fielding most of its tenors. It is throwing its weight into this election which is expected to be a very close election," said news website Medias24.

Salafist candidate 

Online media reported that Salafist cleric Hammad Kabbaj would also be part of the PJD list although he is not a party member.

The cleric "is far from being a moderate" and has "extremist" views concerning the status of women and Jews, said Medias24.

Al Huffington Post Morocco said the PDJ apparently chose Kabbaj as a means to forge closer ties with Salafists who have "limited political weight but a large support base".

After years in opposition, the PJD found itself the head of a coalition government in 2011 tasked with guiding Morocco through a turbulent period that saw many regional countries rattled by Arab Spring uprisings.

That vote followed concessions from King Mohammed VI, the scion of a monarchy that has ruled the country for 350 years.

A new constitution curbed some, but not all, of the king's near-absolute powers as autocratic regimes toppled in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

Sexual harassment 

But in 2015, the PJD lost to the PAM in municipal elections, trailing behind the opposition by a few votes.

Since then the PJD has found itself mired in a series of scandals.

Last year, a woman filed a sexual harassment complaint against a PJD candidate near Marrakesh, and last month a party member was arrested in possession of three tonnes of cannabis.

Earlier this month, the "sex on the beach" case involved two vice presidents of the party's religious wing who are both in their 60s.

And a PJD governor has also come under fire for allegedly using his political influence to try to force through the sale of 200 hectares of farmland.

Around 15 million Moroccans are registered to vote and 30 parties are due to take part in the election to win seats on the 395-member Chamber of Representatives, the lower house of parliament.

Campaigning officially begins on September 25.



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