Thu, Dec 01, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Moroccan king taps Islamist as PM

AFP, MIDELT, MOROCCO

A Maghreb Arab Press handout shows Justice and Development Party Secretary-General Abdelilah Benkirane, left, meeting with Morocco’s King Mohammed VI in Midelt, Morocco, on Tuesday.

Photo: Reuters

Morocco’s King Mohammed VI on Tuesday appointed the country’s first-ever Islamist prime minister and charged him with forming a government following his party’s historic election win.

Abdelilah Benkirane, head of the moderate Justice and Development Party (PJD), will now lead talks on putting together a coalition Cabinet, the palace said in a statement.

“He was appointed as the head of the government, in accordance with the new Constitution, and will be responsible for forming the new government,” the palace said in a statement.

Benkirane took the oath of office after a brief meeting with the king, a journalist witnessed, and was expected to start coalition talks shortly.

“I ask the Almighty to help me carry out the noble mission with which the king has entrusted me in the general interest and to rise to the oath that I took today before His Majesty,” Benkirane said.

The appointment capped a series of firsts in the north African nation — the first poll since the king introduced constitutional reforms as Arab Spring protests shook the region; the first time an Islamist party won a national poll; the first time the king had to name a prime minister from the winning party; the first time an Islamist party will lead a government.

The PJD, which has sworn allegiance to the monarchy, won 107 of the 395 seats in parliament.

The party is considered to adhere to moderate Islamism, a political system that advocates following Islamic beliefs, and is not expected to make radical changes to policy since it will have to govern with several other parties.

The 57-year-old Benkirane, who sports close-cropped white hair and a matching beard, has acknowledged that his party would have to tailor its program to appease its coalition partners.

“But the nub of our program and of those who will govern with us will have a double axis, democracy and good governance,” he told France 24 television on Saturday.

The PJD has steadily gained in popularity since capturing just eight seats in the first election it contested in 1997.

It scooped 42 seats in 2002 elections, the first of Mohammed’s reign, and then increased its share in 2007 when it finished second with 47 seats.

The party initially focused on social issues, such as opposition to summer music festivals and the sale of alcohol, but has shifted to topics with broader voter appeal like the fight against corruption and high unemployment.

In the latest campaign, it promised to cut poverty in half and raise the minimum wage by 50 percent.

Three parties in the outgoing government — the independent Istiqlal, with 60 seats, the liberal Rally of Independents, with 52, and the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP), with 39 — have declared themselves ready for talks with the PJD, according to Moroccan press.

Newspapers speculated heavily on the new team, which they said should include independent figures and technocrats.

The Qoutla three-party coalition in the current government met on Monday to find a common policy on joining the PJD in power, the al-Massaa daily reported.

Formed in 1992 to press for constitutional reform, this coalition of the Istiqlal, the USFP and the Party of Progress and Socialism holds 164 seats in the new parliament.

Benkirane has already said he will talk to the Qoutla.

Born in Rabat, Benkirane is married and the father of six children.

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