Morocco king vows sweeping reforms

Aims for independent judiciary, elected PM


Morocco's King Mohammed VI announced a planned constitutional reform on Wednesday and appointed a committee to work with political parties, trade unions and civil society groups to draw up proposals by June.

The constitutional reform, includes real powers for a popularly elected prime minister instead of a royal appointee, as well as a free judiciary.

In his first speech after uprisings across the Arab world and less than a month after protests erupted in Morocco for more social justice and limits on royal powers, the king Wednesday pledged to draw up a new draft constitution.

"We have decided to undertake a comprehensive constitutional reform," King Mohammed said, underlining his "firm commitment to giving a strong impetus to the dynamic and deep reforms... taking place."

He outlined seven major steps, including the way the prime minister is chosen.

We have decided to undertake a comprehensive constitutional reform

Morocco\\\\\\\'s King Mohamed VI


Instead of being appointed by the king, the prime minister will be drawn from "the political party which leads in the elections" in parliament, he said.

The prime minister will have "effective executive power" and be "fully responsible for the government, public administration... and implementing the government's program," the monarch said.

He also pledged "expanded individual and collective liberties and the reinforcement of human rights in all dimensions" and spoke of the "will to set up an independent judiciary."

The live broadcast was the first time the king has delivered an address to the nation since thousands of people demonstrated in several cities on February 20 demanding political reform and limits on his powers.

They were the first protests in the country since the start of the uprisings across the Arab world that toppled the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt this year.

There have been other peaceful rallies since then, including in the capital Rabat and the country's biggest city Casablanca, with young activists campaigning for greater democracy using the Facebook social network to call for new demonstrations on March 20.

Independent judiciary

He said the reform would include plans for an independent judiciary, a stronger role for parliament and political parties and a regionalization program to devolve more powers to local officials.

The draft constitution that the committee proposes will be submitted to a referendum, the 47-year-old monarch added.

"The committee is encouraged to show resourcefulness and creativity in order to come up with an advanced constitutional system for Morocco, now and into the future," he said.

Emboldened by pro-democracy pressures sweeping the Arab world, thousands of Moroccans protested last month for constitutional reform and an independent judiciary.

Morocco is officially a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament. But the constitution empowers the king to dissolve the legislature, impose a state of emergency and have a key say in government appointments including the prime minister.

The committee is encouraged to show resourcefulness and creativity in order to come up with an advanced constitutional system for Morocco, now and into the future


Some unrest

Six people were killed in unrest that erupted after demonstrations on February 20, including five found burned to death in a bank set ablaze by people whom officials labeled vandals.

Another 128, including 115 members of the security forces, were wounded in the violence and 120 people were arrested, the interior ministry said.

Dozens of vehicles and buildings were also damaged or set alight.

On February 21, during the launch of an Economic and Social Council, the king spoke of his commitment to "pursuing the realization of structural reforms".

He also expressed his willingness to "strengthen" the country's accomplishments "by new reforms".

The Moroccan government has said it had heard the demands for more change and was committed to speeding up reforms, which it said were already on its national agenda.

Islamists welcome speech

Opposition Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) leader Abdelilah Benkirane welcomed the speech saying that Mohammed had "reacted positively to the demands made by the parties and young people".

"We are almost surprised," he said in a first reaction, welcoming the monarch's "powerful" response.

"The PJD is satisfied. This development looks more like a revolution and the concerned parties are asked to work seriously to make the contents of the speech become reality."

"This is a break with a discredited past," said political scientist Mohamed Darif. "He has met the demands of many Moroccans who never stopped to ask for institutional and political reforms."

"This speech breaks with the monarchy as an executive power. It does not create a parliamentary monarchy but provides for a balanced monarchy where power is divided between the king and a government based on parliament."

This speech breaks with the monarchy as an executive power. It does not create a parliamentary monarchy but provides for a balanced monarchy...

Abdelilah Benkirane, PJD\\\'s leader

Saeed Binjebli, an organizer of the youth-led movement for change, said the speech should limit protests in the short-term but social woes could fuel more protests.

"This was a very bold speech," he said. "The king responded favorably to all our demands on the constitutional front."

But it did not address protesters' criticisms of corruption or demands for release of political prisoners, he said.

The constitution would also recognize the country's multi-ethnic identity, a reference to the indigenous Amazigh believed to represent the majority of Morocco's 32.6-million population. Arabic is currently the only official national language.

"I am ... deeply committed to giving strong momentum to the substantial reforms under way, of which a democratic constitution is both the basis and the essence," the king said.