The Interior Ministry of Morocco says an Islamist party is set to get its first crack at forming the next government after winning the largest bloc of seats in Friday's parliamentary elections, according to The Associated Press.
With about two-thirds of all results in Saturday, the Justice and Development Party had taken 80 seats out of 282 so far announced. A total of 395 seats were up for grabs in the nationwide vote a day earlier.The second place finisher, Istiqlal, was far behind with 45 seats. According to the nation's new constitution, the party with the most seats gets first crack at forming a new government.
AP reports that the elections were brought forward a year in response to the "Arab Spring" wave of pro-democracy protests. Morocco's government said 45 percent of registered voters participated in the election, a slight increase over the previous contest in 2007.
Morocco has been a close U.S. ally and popular European tourist destination, but suffers from high unemployment and widespread poverty.
AP reports that in recent years Morocco's Islamists have cultivated an image as honest outsiders battling corruption and seeking to improve services, rather than focusing on moral issues such as the women's headscarf.
Saturday's results seem to confirm a trend of victories by Islamist parties in elections prompted by the Arab Spring, following Ennahda's win last month in Tunisia.
Al Jazeera English reports that the king amended the constitution to give more powers to parliament, government and the prime minister, which was approved in a July 1 referendum. The prime minister still must be appointed by the king from the party that wins the most assembly seats, and the king still holds authority over the military and religious affairs, as well as appointing ambassadors and diplomats.
AP reports that activists have called the moves insincere, and clamored for a boycott:
"At that polling station, at least 16 percent of the ballots were either blank or invalid, often because voters had crossed out every party in protest at the choice. In 2007, 19 percent of ballots were invalid. In the course of Friday's vote a number of Moroccans, both those voting and not, expressed dissatisfaction with the political process and the choice of politicians."
Euronews on the PJD party victory: