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Candidate debates in Morocco’s parliamentary elections

With much of the world’s attention focused on debates between presidential and vice-presidential candidates in the United States, we wanted to highlight another set of debates in Morocco.

On October 7, 2016 Moroccan voters head to the polls in the 10th parliamentary elections in 60 years. While the media are characterising this as an election between two political parties (the Party of Justice and Development and the Party of Authenticity and Modernity), the election system is designed in a way that no party will receive an absolute majority and smaller parties will be key players in forming coalitions.  Al Jazeera published a solid primer on the elections if you want to understand the system a little better.

Having worked closely with several members of the Moroccan parliament, I have been following the campaign and rooting for those political activists with whom I worked and who often reminded me that politics can be an honourable profession when elected officials prioritise the needs of their constituents. My Facebook feed has been full of posts from campaign events with the usual emphasis on big rallies and partisan promotion.   Political parties – and democracy in general – are very much a “work in progress” in Morocco and it will be some time before there is a true level playing field in elections.

This year there was an innovation in the campaign in the form of national and regional debates – the first of their kind in Morocco.

Al Akhawayan University (AUI), partnered with Medi1TV, and ASWAT Radio to organise three nationally televised debates and six debates broadcast on regional radio stations.  Arabic speakers can view clips of the TV debates on Medi1TV’s website. Not only were these debates innovative for Moroccan political parties, they provided a platform and a space for candidates who are typically marginalised in elections, most notably women and young candidatesFullSizeRender.

BCI was proud to play a small part in this new program. In September, Carlo provided consultations and trainings to candidates who were participating in this new campaign activity. In the picturesque city of Ifrane and then Tanger, Carlo worked with party representatives to develop debate skills and help them prepare.  As we recently learned from the US election campaign, even the most seasoned politicians prepare for debates!

The debates are now over and it is left to Moroccan voters to see if they made a difference. The influence of debates on voters’ choices in any election is not always clear. We hope, however, that the introduction of this format of candidate debates in Morocco has increased public engagement in the elections, even if slightly.

Small, incremental changes in democratic processes are often ignored or dismissed as irrelevant in the moment and impact is often only obvious long after the moment has passed. We hope the innovation of these debates will become the norm in future elections.

 Francesca Binda

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