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Morocco Islamist party set to form government

By Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
updated 11:20 AM EST, Tue November 29, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Justice and Development Party won 107 of 395 seats in Friday's election
  • The head of the moderate Islamist party has been asked to form a Cabinet
  • Abdelilah Benkirane has been the PJD's secretary-general since 2008
  • The election results indicates public unhappiness with the governing elite, an analyst says

(CNN) -- Morocco's king asked the head of a moderate Islamist party to form a government Tuesday, state media said, after the party claimed victory in the country's first parliamentary elections since constitutional reforms this summer.

The Islamist Justice and Development Party, or PJD, is expected to form a coalition government after it won 107 of the 395 seats contested in Friday's vote.

King Mohammed VI appointed Abdelilah Benkirane, the party's secretary-general, as head of the new government Tuesday and asked him to form a Cabinet, the official news agency MAP reported.

Benkirane, a former managing director of three newspapers and a father of six, was elected secretary-general of the PJD in 2008, MAP says.

According to its website, the PJD previously participated in elections in 1997, 2002 and 2007. The party won 46 seats in 2007 and 42 in 2002, after taking just nine seats in 1997.

Lise Storm, senior lecturer in Middle East Politics at the University of Exeter in England, said the PJD's result this time round constituted "remarkable progress -- much higher than anticipated by anyone, and also much, much better than any of the party's competitors."

The margin of victory for the PJD surprised many observers, she said, and suggests that those protesting against the country's governing elite in recent months are truly fed up.

"I think we are witnessing an Islamist wave in the Middle East, with so-called Islamist moderates winning not only in Turkey, but also in Tunisia and Morocco, and possibly also in Egypt," Storm said.

"It gives an indication of the sentiments of the general population in these countries, and (of) the state of the political opposition there too, as the Islamists in many cases have been the most visible opposition force, and the best organized too."

The PJD is more moderate than Turkey's governing Justice and Development Party or the Islamists who won power in Tunisian elections last month, Storm said.

The party's online mission statement lists three values -- authenticity, justice and development -- and makes little mention of Islam.

Authenticity "has to be consistent with our values, culture and civilization, with the incorporation and respect for the cultural, linguistic and ethnic groups, within the space of the Islamic brotherhood," the statement says.

Under the new constitution, approved by referendum in July, both Parliament and the prime minister have greater powers, while the monarch's sway has been slightly lessened.

The changes -- which mean the prime minister must now be chosen from the party that wins the greatest number of votes -- came after thousands of Moroccans took to the streets to demonstrate earlier this year, inspired by what became known as the Arab Spring.

The youth-based February 20 Movement called for jobs and an end to corruption its members say stems from royal cronies.

CNN's Saad Abedine contributed to this report.

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