Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Morocco: Voting for Change
By Mohammad el-Ashab
What is the difference between overthrowing the government, freezing the parliament, and re-arranging the jurisdictions of the Authority through a popular referendum; and between taking risks and achieving that through a popular uprising? In both cases, the objective is to make the change that the Street wants. The calmer and more balanced the bet is, the more room is allowed for correcting the hasty and impulsive steps. Human experiences are established one on top of the other, and the void that nature fears adds additional realistic opportunities of success to the reform initiative in the framework of continuity.
The draft of the new constitution in Morocco has gone to the extreme limits in coming up with an alternative methodology such as a straight line encompassing the distance between two points. Instead of calling upon the Street to protest against the ill management of public affairs issues, this formula was replaced by selecting a fateful voting day connected to the results of the referendum. However, the debate that was raised concerning the legal, political, and cultural dimensions of the constitutional document was more warranted than any other discussion. This is due, on the one hand, to the fact that it is based on a reference that was surrounded by the guarantees of a wide scale popular participation in coming up with the features of the reform vision. On the other hand, this is due to the fact that it has allowed a wide margin for choice both for those who were convinced with the advantage of voting for the usefulness of the draft, and for those who focused on the empty half of the glass. Real democracy almost resembles the first steps of a baby as he needs to be watched over more carefully until he learns to walk, talk, and think; until he becomes an adult.
There are no unified and similar standards in adapting a democratic maturity age. However, there is a consensus indicating that reverting to the popular will is at the heart of democratic practice. As the rights to protest and demonstrate are protected in the democratic systems that are not afraid of being open with the truth, their ramifications grow more effective through popular participation, i.e. by practicing sovereignty via a referendum. The only choice that remains to be made is to choose between the shortest or most bumpy road to reach the goal.
A draft new constitution in any country is not the end. It is the start, around which and through which, new practices are built, be it on the level of defining the jurisdictions of the authorities, or through having a reference for arbitration that abide by international commitments when it comes to their relationships with their nationals and their geographic and nationalistic affiliations. However, the institutions born out of this reference, including the government, the parliament, and the ruling mechanisms, are the ones that provide democracy with legs that it can use for standing and walking. This is the basis for the connection between the passing of a new constitution and building new elected institutions.
The Moroccan Monarch, King Mohammad VI, could have overthrown the government and frozen the parliament and called for early elections. This methodology might be accepted by the Street as the latter is boiling on the backdrop of the popular intifadas in several Arab countries. However, he rather opted for suggesting a draft constitution and appointed Moroccan experts, and different types of political and syndical leaderships to come up with its main headlines. Thus, he achieved two objectives:
First, the Moroccans of the opposition and pro- government teams are now major partners in coming up with the country’s constitution according to the methodology of open consultations and under the ceiling of the constants that no one can argue about (the religion, the political system, the unity of the land, and the democratic choice) while allowing the voters the freedom to say the last word.
Second: Making a connection between the constitutional reforms and advanced levels of practices that ban the dilution of the political scene; that courageously decentralize the jurisdictions of the state; and that form parallel institutions in order to enhance the situation of human rights and to guarantee the independence of the judiciary in addition to launching a war against corruption, bribery, distortion, and power abuse.
But the most important thing in this calm change that relies on the logic of convincing and being convinced, is that a new page has been turned in the book of the Moroccan experience and that the voters who will head to the ballot boxes on the upcoming July 1, will take into consideration that they are not only voting on a constitutional document, but also on a package of reforms that have been launched in a balanced and careful manner. This has taken the battle of change from the Street to the ballot boxes.
This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 28/06/2011