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September 23, 2007

How to Rig Elections without Rigging Them: The Case of Morocco
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Andrew Mandelbaum, who understands Morocco more than most, has a good post up at The Democratic Piece (bookmark it!) that goes into some useful detail about how smart autocracies (like Morocco) don't need to rig elections. They can just "rig" the electoral system beforehand by implementing a dizzying configuration of rules and regulations that weaken political parties and make it impossible for any one party to come even close to winning a majority of seats. As a result, parliament ends up being unwieldy, fragmented mess. Analyzing the results of this month's elections, Andrew points out that

It is hardly too early to suggest that these “free and fair” elections have failed to generate a legislature with the capacity to govern responsibly (to put the mis’oul in the mis’ouleen).  This time the dirty work was not carried out via the usual underhanded means for which the reserved domains (those who maintain power above the political system; i.e. the king) are known, but through the wise selection of an electoral system that encourages balancing of political forces over other priorities.

Moreover, it's no longer enough for elections to be "free and fair." Elections are only meaningful if citizens can elect leaders who actually have power, authority, and jurisdiction over all matters of governance. In Morocco, they don't. After all, there's a King, and he has final say over "sovereignty issues" (i.e. foreign policy, national security, trade policy, overall economic policy). Andrew notes:

Unlike many world leaders, a significant number of Moroccans understand that elections do not matter when your parties cannot come up with a plan to screw in a light bulb; an abysmal 37% bothered to show up at the polls. What fewer Moroccans understand is that the parties have incentives to keep them in the dark, and this game starts – as I have argued before - at the palace. Interestingly, approximately 19% of those who cast ballots opted to write anti-government slurs, draw pictures, or hand back the ballots blank rather than exercise their democratic rights not to use their democratic rights in a non-democratic system (some of them were accidental invalid ballots, but I have it on word from an election observer friend that a large portion of them were purposely invalidated).

Andrew's conclusion is pessimistic:

Unfortunately, I’m not insinuating that Moroccans are getting so upset with the system that they are going to actually do something about it.Rather, I believe that the desire for action is there, but that without someone or some organization to harness it, Morocco will continue down its current path to nowhere for the foreseeable future.


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Is the situation in Morocco so different from that in the US with its two similar parties, electoral college, gerrymandered districts and election fraud?

"Current path to nowhere"--that rings a bell. At least Morocco isn't invading other countries (disregarding West Sahara).

Also, speaking of autocracies, this is not a recipe for democracy but autocracy: Elections are only meaningful if citizens can elect leaders who actually have power, authority, and jurisdiction over all matters of governance.

What's the difference if an autocrat is elected (Bush) or self-appointed (King)? In a democracy the power comes from the people.

Shadi: I've subscribed to The Democratic Piece's feed. Looks good, thanks for recommending it.

Don, I wanted to take issue with a couple things you have written; if I understood them correctly. To be sure, I would agree that Bush is a demagogue. I will also agree that the U.S. has its own electoral issues.

Still, there is a big difference between Bush, who was elected, and an autocrat. Bush, while he may try all he wants, does not have the capacity to single-handedly change the power structure of the U.S. government. Presently Bush is the President of the United States, but Bush the individual is not fused with that institution. This is important because it limits his capacity to change the incentive structures that govern the other political actors and institutions.

In Morocco, on the other hand, the King - whether he is Hassan II or Muhammad VI - is the executive branch, spiritual leader, and broker who manipulates informal institutions to carry out his patriarchal vision of the state. The incentive structure that the King governs is very different from that which Bush governs. In Morocco, parliamentarians have strong incentives not to fulfill their legislative duties. The parliament is not even equipped with the necessary funding and resources to govern the Great State of New Jersey (Morocco is a country of 30m and it's parliament has 6 committees with fewer than 5 staffers working on each one).

While I share your sentiments towards our own demagogue, he's elected, and he'll be replaced in a bit more than a year.

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