Morocco’s Islamists, opposition in ‘deal’ to end crisis

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Morocco’s ruling Islamists have struck a deal with the main opposition party to form a new coalition government, ending months of uncertainty after a key ally’s decision to withdraw, media reported Thursday.

A cabinet reshuffle is due to be announced in the coming days, following the accord between Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane, and the head of the National Rally of Independents (RNI), Salaheddine Mezouar.

Benkirane’s Party of Justice and Development shot to power for the first time after triumphing in 2011 parliamentary polls called by the monarchy in response to Arab Spring protests sweeping Morocco.

But the Islamists have been seeking a new coalition partner to avoid fresh elections since the nationalist Istiqlal Party, which held several ministerial portfolios, announced its intention to resign in May, accusing the PJD of failing to fix the economy and resolve pressing social problems.

News website Lakome, citing an RNI official, said Thursday an accord had been reached, with Mezouar taking the key post of finance minister.

Benkirane’s new cabinet would be announced in the coming days, the source added.

Government spokesman Mustafa Khalfi could not be reached for comment, but a PJD lawmaker, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that a deal had been struck and a “limited” cabinet reshuffle would take place next week.

French-language daily L’Economiste said Mezouar’s party would take seven portfolios in the new government, including finance, foreign affairs, commerce and industry, and teaching.

Despite its electoral success in 2011 after decades in opposition, the PJD failed to win an outright majority, forcing it into an unlikely coalition with three other parties, including Istiqlal, whose leader Hamid Chabat was openly critical of the Islamists towards the end.

The political deadlock had prompted fears of government paralysis at a time when Morocco is under pressure to implement much-needed social reforms, notably on costly subsidies, and to fix its ailing public finances.

The country last year faced a budget deficit of more than seven percent of GDP.

But the political difficulties facing the moderate Islamist party are belied by its undeniable popularity, with a recent opinion poll showing Benkirane still having widespread support among the electorate.

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