The debate as to whether Islam is compatible with democracy appears to be largely irrelevant in Morocco. The communal, or local, elections that we observed were professionally conducted, fair and free, with a voter turnout of over 50%.
Some critics charged that the elections were not really significant, as King Mohammed VI would continue to exercise the only real authority. Indeed, the party that won the largest number of votes is led by a politician close to the King.
I disagree with that assessment. I think that the elections will contribute to greater democracy in Morocco, for the following reasons:
-- First, the party that won in fact is the one most committed to various modernizing reforms. Of its rivals, the Islamist party gained votes but still only received less than 8% of the total.
-- Second, Morocco is busy decentralizing fiscal authority so, at particularly in the larger towns and cities, local officials will be responsible for large budgets - and with money comes power and influence.
-- Third, the minimum age for candidates was lowered this year from 23 to 21, making it possible for younger people to compete. While they will presumably be inexperienced, they should also have a lot of energy and ambition.
-- Fourth, this election also set aside a number of seats for women candidates. Many of those elected were young and well-educated. If this trend continues, over time it too will produce significant changes.