All power to the palace
Ever since the parliamentary elections on 7 October 2016, in which the "Justice and Development Party" (PJD) gained the most votes, Morocco has been experiencing a political crisis that is unprecedented in its recent history, preventing the formation of a functioning government.
The Moroccan Constitution stipulates that the king is to appoint a representative from the party receiving the most votes as the head of government. On 10 October 2016, the king thus entrusted the PJD secretary general and former prime minister, Abdelilah Benkirane, with forming a new government.
But after five months, all of Benkirane's efforts to generate a parliamentary majority for his government had come to naught. Morocco's King Mohammed VI then took until 17 March to reach the decision to replace Prime Minister Benkirane with the PJD politician Saad-Eddine El Othmani as new head of government.
Morocco's royal house – the invisible string-puller
The reason for this delay is that the political actor still pulling the strings behind the scenes even today is in fact "the royal palace". On its orders, a friend of the king was appointed chairman of a small political party directly after the election results were announced. This newly anointed "party leader" was then able, likewise with support from the palace, to forge an alliance of four parties and to act as its agent carrying out the negotiations with Benkirane.
Although this quadruple alliance has a total of only 103 seats in parliament (compared to the PJD's 126), it nonetheless proved to be a driving force in the negotiations, trying to impose its conditions on the prime minister-designate and forcing him to keep making new concessions. Benkirane had no choice but to play the game, because he knew that the alliance was not acting on its own behalf but rather at the behest of the palace, without which it would not have existed in the first place.
The question that many observers are currently asking is: why is the palace so anxious to put pressure on a party chairman who would obviously bow to the king's demands voluntarily? Is the real intention perhaps to humiliate and subjugate him in order to rob him of all credibility in the eyes of the public?
We can look for answers by reviewing the history of relations between palace, political parties and trade unions since Moroccan independence. Both open and subliminal conflicts are revealed, some of which even took the form of armed clashes. The real sticking point has always been the palace's ambition to concentrate all power in its own hands, brooking no other ruler beside itself, no matter how loyal.
Political discord and purchased loyalties
Ever since Morocco achieved its independence, the strategy of the palace has been to undermine political parties and trade unions and to nip emerging social movements in the bud. Various mechanisms have been used to carry out this strategy. The palace has tried to split up political parties and trade unions, to sow dissension in their ranks and purchase the loyalty of their leaders, while repressing those who resisted the lure and would not budge from their principles. In the process, it created entities similar to parties and trade unions that were loyal to the royal house, in order to shake up the political landscape and prevent a power vacuum.
This strategy has lost nothing of its efficacy today. And yet it has proven fruitless thus far against the power of the PJD. This is because one of the greatest strengths of this party, despite all its pragmatism and willingness to compromise, is that it is still immune to any attempt at infiltration or division.