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Morocco’s moderate Islamist PJD party wins 107 seats

Morocco’s moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) won 107 seats in parliamentary elections, followed by the former ruling Istiqlal party by 60 seats, the interior minister said on Sunday.

The PJD - known by its French initials - is the latest Islamist party to win an election brought about by the Arab Spring. The right-of-center Istiqlal, a potential ally for the PJD, placed second with 60 seats.

Under a new constitution proposed by King Mohammed VI in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings that was approved in a July referendum, the monarch must now choose a prime minister from the the winning party instead of naming whoever he pleases.

The king, the latest scion of a monarchy that has ruled the country for 350 years, proposed changes to the constitution that curb some of his near absolute powers as autocratic regimes toppled in nearby Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya and pro-democracy protests brewed at home.

“We are going to wait for King Mohammed VI to nominate a prime minister before we start talks with other political parties,” added Benkirane.

Morocco has been swept by pro-democracy protests decrying lack of freedoms and widespread corruption. King Mohammed VI sought to defuse tensions by ordering a constitutional reform that gives parliament more power and moving up legislative elections by a year.

The new government will have to work with the king, who still retains broad powers and acts as arbitrator, at a time when Morocco is facing significant challenges, such as high youth unemployment and worsening public finances.

“The standard will be set by the king,” said political scientist Khadija Mohsen, a specialist on Morocco who is based in Paris.

“He will continue to chair the Council of Ministers and can not content himself to be outside of the system.”

After winning just eight seats in 1997, the PJD surged in popularity, scooping 42 seats in the 2002 election, the first of King Mohammed VI’s reign.

It then increased its share in the last election in 2007 when it finished second with 47 seats.

The party focused at first on social issues, such as opposition to summer music festivals and the sale of alcohol, but has shifted to issues with broader voter appeal like the fight against corruption and high unemployment.

During the current campaign it promised to cut poverty in half and raise the minimum wage by 50 percent.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Saturday congratulated Morocco on its parliamentary election but cautioned that the task of building a democracy would require more “hard work.”

“As we have seen in so many changes underway across the region, political leaders will be judged not only by what they say, but what they do,” she said.

Voter turnout was 45.4 percent, up from 37 percent from the last parliamentary election in 2007, but lower than the 51.6 percent turnout recorded in 2002.

Morocco’s pro-reform February 20 protest movement, responsible for protests held just before the king announced plans to change the constitution, had called on voters to boycott the election. It argues the reforms are insufficient.

Between 1,500 ands 2,000 February 20 supporters marched in the streets of Casablanca, south of Rabat on Sunday, declaring that the official voter turnout rate showed that “the people didn’t vote.”

The movement said eligible voters were more than 22 million and only 13 million of them registered for the polls. The government said 45 percent (about 6 million) of those who registered to vote actually cast their ballots. So, according to pro-democracy activists an estimated 16 million out of 22 eligible voters rejected participation in the elections, which they see as useless under an all-dominant monarch.