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Middle East and North Africa

Moroccan cabinet ministers resign from government

A handful of Moroccan cabinet ministers from the junior in the country’s ruling coalition formally tendered their resignations this month. The five ministers from the conservative Istiqlal Party issued resignations that King Mohammed accepted almost immediately.

The Istiqlal Party ministers had been clashing with the more moderate Islamist Party of Justice and Development, the party of prime minister Abdelilah Benkirane, over the latter party’s reduction of subsidies, which the Istiqlal Party felt was ill-advised, especially considering the subsidies were partially what kept Morocco from sliding into a major Arab Spring uprising.

Benkirane and Mohammed agreed last year to stop subsidizing agricultural and other goods in order to get a $6.2 billion two-year precautionary credit line from the International Monetary Fund. The PJD compromised with other coalition members by agreeing to start by cutting the public money spent on subsidies, about 6.4 percent of Morocco’s GDP, by a fifth, and to only start the cuts after the holy and charitable month of Ramadan. But the other parties in the ruling coalition, most notably the Istiqlal Party, still attempted to stymie these changes, leading the IMF to become impatient with Morocco’s progress in fulfilling its half of the deal, and placing more and more pressure on both the PJD and the ruling monarch Mohammd.

The very fact that Mohammed accepted the five ministers’ resignations is considered by many to be a monarchy-sanctioned victory for Benkirane and the PJD’s agenda, according to Mohammed V University political analyst Ahmed Bouz. Despite the prime minister’s issues with furthering his agenda and with in-fighting within his coalition, he has proven quite popular with the Moroccan people, with a 68.5 percent approval rating, according to the Averty Institute.

As for repairing the government that has been shaken by the resignations, Benkirane has claimed to Moroccan media that he will be in talks with all parties to attempt to form a new ruling coalition to replace the Istiqlal Party ministers. However, he has most seriously been in talks with Salaheddine Mezouar, head of the liberal National Rally for Independents. The National Rally for Independents is nearly as powerful a political party as the Istiqlal Party was prior to these resignations, and its technocratic and reformist bent may continue to push Benkirane in the direction he has been moving since taking office in 2011.

However, Mezouar and Benkirane battled during the most recent elections on a personal level, indicating that fractures will still exist in the ruling coalition should the National Rally for Independents join. 

Prior to Benkirane’s admission that he was talking personally with other party leaders about a cabinet reshuffle and a new ruling coalition, some analysts wondered if early elections would be called, and if they would undermine the elections called by King Mohammed in 2011, which led to Benkirane’s ascension.

As for the cabinet reshuffle itself, Mohammed has urged the departing Istiqlal Party ministers to continue managing the affairs of their positions until replacements can be found, but it is not known whether or not any actually will remain until their positions are filled.

By Laura Gates

Source: Al Jazeera, Washington Post, Reuters, North Africa Post

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