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  • Voting begins in local Moroccan elections

    Attention focuses on Islamists and ‘King’s party’

    Moroccans began voting on Friday in a local election where the government of conservatives and socialists aims to limit gains by opposition Islamists and a new party formed by staunch backers of King Mohammed.

    It is the second local election of the reform-minded king's reign. He is widely credited with loosening restrictions on political activity and improving the North African country's human rights record.

    Analysts said the government is hoping for a voter turnout at least higher than the record-low 37 percent registered in a 2007 legislative election.

    "The attention of top government officials and party leaders will be focused on the turnout rate because they are terrified of a boycott and so-called voter apathy," said Khaled al-Harri, a political analyst.

    More than 13 million Moroccans are eligible to vote for 130,223 candidates vying for 27,795 seats in 1,503 village and city councils. Analysts forecast a higher turnout in rural areas than in cities.

    "Illiterate people will vote more than educated voters," said political analyst Taoufik Bouachrine. "The number of voters among the poor will be higher than rich and middle classes."

    The polls opened at 8 a.m. (0700 GMT) and will close at 7 p.m. (1800 GMT).

    The attention of top government officials and party leaders will be focused on the turnout rate because they are terrified of a boycott and so-called voter apathy

    Khaled al-Harri, a political analyst

    Alternatives

    The Islamist Justice and Development party (PJD) presents itself as an alternative to what it calls a self-serving elite that enriched itself at the country's expense and sat back as moral values declined and crime grew.

    The PJD came second in a 2007 legislative election and it has targeted its local election campaign on Morocco's big cities. "Our objective is to come first," party secretary general Abdelillah Benkirane told AFP.

    Fez, Morocco's third largest city, and Sale, next to the capital Rabat, are
    key targets of the PJD. Fes is currently held by Istiqlal, the party of Prime Minister Abbas al-Fassi.

    The election will also be a test for the new Party of Authenticity and Modernity (PAM), called by some as a party of the king. It was set up in 2008 by former Interior Mminister Fouad Ali al-Himma, a friend of King Mohammed VI.

    The PAM withdrew their 89 lawmakers from the governing coalition last month to join the opposition. It has entered the most candidates, 16,700, in the election, according to the Interior Ministry. The PJD has 8,870 candidates.

    The government lost its parliamentary majority last month when PAM withdrew its support. PAM's 46 lawmakers are now in opposition but one of its leaders remains education minister.

    The government is in survival mode for now after the king, who wields huge powers as head of state and religious leader, said it should press on with its tasks.

    Analysts say PAM sees an opportunity to build support among voters as the government is viewed widely as weak and unpopular.

    Illiterate people will vote more than educated voters

    Taoufik Bouachrine, political analyst