NEW: Turnout is 45%, the Interior Ministry says
The poll is important as a reflection of the desire for change, an analyst says
The elections are the first to be held since protests forced constitutional reform
Morocco has not seen the same major upheaval as some other countries in the region
Moroccans went to the polls Friday in the country’s first parliamentary elections since adopting a new constitution following mass protests over unemployment and corruption.
Turnout in the North African country was 45%, the Interior Ministry said.
Both Parliament and the prime minister have greater powers under the new constitution, while the monarch’s sway has been slightly lessened.
More than 300 international observers monitored the voting, alongside 3,500 Moroccan observers, the semiofficial Le Matin newspaper reported.
Morocco’s moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) is expected to do well in the vote.
Lise Storm, senior lecturer in Middle East Politics at the University of Exeter in England, told CNN the elections were important because “they are exciting for the first time.”
After years in which the results have been predictable, this time more is at stake and the outcome may signal whether the population is happy with the monarchy or not, Storm said.
If people voted for the bloc of traditional loyalist parties, that would suggest they want to maintain the status quo, she said, whereas more votes for the PJD would signal a desire for greater change.
“We don’t know who’s going to win for once,” she said.
Zeineb, 29, a business owner in Casablanca who would give only her first name, told CNN she did not expect a great deal to change as a result of the elections.
“I don’t expect this to be a historical turn,” she said. “I am waiting for real changes from the government. As long as parties controlled by the palace will be around, and Mounir Majidi, the king’s private secretary, will dominate the economy, nothing will change for me.”
She said the PJD’s pledge to fight corruption was appealing but she does not subscribe to its ideology, so her vote was likely to go to the Socialist Union of Popular Forces as the “less bad” option.
Others were less motivated to use their ballot. “I am not going to vote for people who don’t care about my fate,” one taxi driver said. “Today, I am not going to the polls. I am staying home.”
The elections were first set for September 2012, but they were rescheduled after negotiations between the Interior Ministry, which oversees elections, and some 20 political parties.
Under the constitutional changes approved in July, the country’s prime minister must now be chosen from the party that wins the greatest number of votes, rather than King Mohammed VI selecting his own nominee for the job.
However, he is not obliged to choose the leader of the winning party, Storm said, which gives him more room to maneuver.
Also, the number of political parties involved means that a coalition government is almost inevitable, she said.
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 constitutional changes 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.
Economic reform is needed to create more jobs for the country’s young people, particularly many university graduates who are unemployed, Storm said.
Journalist Aida Alami in Casablanca contributed to this report.