RABAT, Morocco – This could have been the election that ousted Morocco’s secular ruling class from power, giving Islamists unprecedented power in a country where Muslim women in T-shirts sip wine on the streets alongside veiled women drinking tea.
Instead, fear of the unknown appeared to trump the anti-corruption, antiestablishment message of the Islamic-leaning Justice and Development Party, or PJD, in Friday’s election, with voters handing victory to the secular party close to King Mohamed VI.
Morocco, whose cities are widely tolerant of Western customs, has seen a rise in religious conservatism in recent years that has boosted the PJD’s support, especially among the poor and middle class families worried about widespread youth unemployment.
According to preliminary results, the party won 47 of the 325 seats in the lower house of parliament in the vote, five more than it won in the previous election in 2002. It was well short, however, of the 80 seats the party had expected.
Defying predictions, the secular Istiqlal party of the ruling coalition won 52 seats, meaning there likely will be few shifts in the country’s direction and ties with the United States will remain strong, analysts said.
Final results were to be announced later Sunday.
“We were modest,” Istiqlal leader Abbas el Fassi said. While the PJD was predicting victory before the vote, he said, “We didn’t say anything because we are confident and patient to see what the Moroccan people have to say.”
Analysts said that while the pro-Islamic party didn’t fare as well as expected, its message was spreading across the North African country of 33 million people.
“Political Islam is still a growing force, even if voters were not as enthusiastic about the PJD as they had wanted,” said Mohamed Darif, a professor at Mohammedia University and expert on Islamic groups and extremism.
He said that the PJD’s failure to win the election could frustrate hard-line supporters and push them toward more extremist groups.