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Morocco’s King Mohammed VI on Friday named businessman Aziz Akhannouch to lead a new government after his National Rally of Independents (RNI) thrashed the long-ruling Islamists in parliamentary elections.

The king appointed Akhannouch “head of the government and tasked him with forming a new government”, following Wednesday’s polls, a statement from the palace said.

The RNI won 102 of parliament’s 395 seats, trouncing the moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD), which had headed the governing coalition for a decade but took just 13 seats, according to results released by the interior ministry.

Akhannouch hailed the results as “a victory for democracy”.

The billionaire businessman — worth $2 billion according to Forbes — has led the RNI since 2016.

His party is considered close to the palace and has been part of all coalition governments for the past 23 years, except during a brief period between 2012 and 2013.

Following his win, Akhannouch pledged to improve conditions for citizens of Morocco, where entrenched social inequalities have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

“The main commitment of the party is to work seriously as long as we enjoy the confidence of citizens, to improve their daily lives, to achieve their aspirations and regain confidence in their representatives,” he said.

The economy shrank by 7.1 percent in 2020 and the poverty rate shot up to 11.7 percent during the lockdown, the Moroccan statistics institute said in April.

A recent overhaul of the elections laws meant it was the first time Morocco’s 18 million voters cast ballots in both parliamentary and local elections on the same day, an effort to boost turnout.

Around 50.35 percent of eligible voters participated, according to the interior minister, higher than the 43 percent in the 2016 legislative polls.

Akhannouch’s party also came first in the local elections, winning 9,995 of the 31,503 seats, and the regional poll with 196 of the 678 positions.

– Negotiations –

Akhannouch said he was ready to begin negotiations to form his coalition government.

“The most important thing is to have a coherent and united majority,” he said in a televised address Friday evening.

Under Morocco’s constitutional monarchy, the new administration must be submitted for approval by the king, who reserves veto rights.

Akhannouch will likely draw from the main opposition, the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) — founded by an influential royal advisor — which came second in the parliamentary elections with 86 seats, as well as the conservative Istiqlal party, which took 81 seats.

Cabinet horsetrading is not expected to include the PJD however, which announced that it would switch to its “natural” position as the opposition.

Swept to power in the wake of the 2011 uprisings around the Middle East and North Africa, the PJD had hoped to secure a third term leading a ruling coalition.

Despite the change of guard, policy shifts are unlikely since major decisions in Morocco still come from King Mohammed VI.

The head of the Arab world’s longest-serving dynasty has already announced a charter for a “new model of development” with a “new generation of reforms and projects” in the coming years, with political parties expected to sign up.

The plan’s major aims include reducing Morocco’s wealth gap and doubling per-capita economic output by 2035.

Source: AFRICA NEWS

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