In Morocco, Abdelilah Benkirane back at the head of the Islamist party after the debacle of the legislative elections

Evicted from power by the ballot box, Morocco’s main Islamist party chose a new leader on Saturday, October 30, Abdelilah Benkirane, one of its former leaders and popular figure with activists.

Mr. Benkirane, 67, was elected secretary general of the Justice and Development Party (PJD), with more than 80% of the vote, at the end of an extraordinary congress in Rabat, according to the PJD website . His long-awaited triumphal election marks the great return to the political scene of the former head of the Islamist government five years after being sacked by King Mohammed VI.

Read also Abdelilah Benkirane, centerpiece of Moroccan Islamists

The PJD suffered a historic debacle during the legislative and local elections on September 8, which led to the collective resignation of the party leadership.

In power for a decade, without ever really governing, this conservative Islamist party collapsed, dropping from 125 seats in the outgoing House of Representatives to just 13 (out of a total of 395). As a result, the PJD decided to return to the opposition after denouncing “Violations and irregularities” which, according to him, tainted the elections.

According to the Minister of the Interior, Abdelouafi Laftit, the voting operations took place “Under normal circumstances”.

Charismatic politician

It was the National Rally of Independents (RNI, liberal) which won the day, with 102 deputies. Its leader, entrepreneur Aziz Akhannouch, considered close to the royal palace, has been appointed head of the new government.

Mr. Benkirane is seen as a charismatic politician, with a strong media presence, appreciated by Islamist militants but accused of “Populism” by its detractors. Close to the Muslim Brotherhood movement, he co-founded the PJD in the 1990s.

Elected secretary general of the party in 2008, he became head of the Moroccan government in 2011, in the wake of the protests of the February 20 Movement – Moroccan version of the “Arab Spring” – which demanded the end of “Corruption and despotism”.

Read also The King of Morocco announces the replacement of Prime Minister Benkirane

Returned to the head of government, a first in Morocco, following his victory in the 2016 legislative elections, he was then unable to form a majority coalition due to a standoff with his rival Aziz Akhannouch.

He was dismissed from his functions by the monarch after several months of blockage and replaced in March 2017 by the number two of the PJD, the consensual Saad-Eddine Al-Othmani. An episode which greatly weakened the Islamists. Mr. Benkirane will have the task of remobilizing an Islamist party struck by its defeat and in full doubt.

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The World with AFP

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In Morocco, Abdelilah Benkirane back at the head of the Islamist party after the debacle of the legislative elections