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Apathy dominates the run-up to Morocco's parliamentary poll

Associated Press

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RABAT // It should be a moment of excitement: Moroccans are choosing a parliament in elections today prompted by the Arab Spring's clamour for freedom.

Yet there have been few signs that the poll was imminent.

Posters and rallies have been absent. Instead there were just stark official banners urging citizens to "do their national duty" and "participate in the change the country is undergoing".

"The parties have presented the same people for the past 30 years, the least they could do is change their candidates," said Hassan Rafiq, a vegetable vendor in Rabat, who said he would not be voting.

Like elsewhere in the Arab world, Moroccans have this year called for democratic reforms. King Mohammed VI amended the constitution and brought forward elections, but the sense of change has dissipated.

The real challenge for these polls, in which an opposition Islamist party and a pro-palace coalition were expected to do well, would be if many people turned out in the face of a call for a boycott call from democracy campaigners.

It is a sharp contrast to the electric atmosphere that characterised Tunisia's first free elections last month.

"Moroccans feel that aside from the constitutional reform, nothing has really changed, meaning that the elections of 2011 will be a copy of the elections 2007 and that is what will probably keep the participation low," said Abdellah Baha, the deputy secretary general of the Islamist Justice and Development Party.

The 2007 elections had a 37 per cent turnout. Some fear it could be even lower this time.

A close US ally and popular destination for European sunseekers, Morocco with its many political parties and regular elections was once the bright star in a region of dictatorships. But all that changed with the Arab uprisings that toppled dictators in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Yemen.

Now a system that holds elections but leaves all powers with a hereditary king does not look so liberal.

But even with activists agitating against the vote and a middle class disillusioned with the process, Morocco's traditional voting machine will still be functioning today.

In rural areas, notables will gather peasants, bring them to polling stations and tell them who to vote for. In the urban slums, local power brokers will deliver the votes of the poor.

The traditional voting system could yet return a coalition government of eight pro-palace parties that could ensure the king has a friendly prime minister carrying out his wishes, largely maintaining the status quo.

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