Morocco king names new premier to end deadlock

Morocco king names new premier to end deadlock
2 min read
18 March, 2017
King Mohammed VI named Saad-Eddine El Othmani, a former foreign minister, to form a new government.

Morocco's king appointed a new prime minister on Friday to end a political deadlock that left the North African country without a government for five months.

King Mohammed VI named Saad-Eddine El Othmani, a former foreign minister who belongs to the Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD), to form a new government.

El Othmani will replace Abdelilah Benkirane, who had been previously asked by the king to form a new government after his PJD won the most seats in elections in October 2016.

The prime minister-designate is a trained psychiatrist who served as secretary general of the PJD from 2004 to 2008 and as foreign minister from January 2012 to October 2013.

The PJD had come to power after the king relinquished some of his near-absolute control following Arab Spring-inspired protests in 2011, with Benkirane heading a previous coalition government for five years.

But the party failed after last October's polls to form a majority despite five months of intense negotiations – the longest time Morocco has been without a government in its recent history.

The palace announced on Thursday that the kind had decided to appoint another PJD member to lead the government "within the shortest possible time".

Benkirane said he would bow to the king's wishes and also told AFP he would step down from the leadership of the PJD in the coming months.

"We cannot comment on decisions taken by the leadership. All I can say is that of course I accept this decision, which falls in line with the constitution. One cannot say no to His Majesty," he said.

Benkirane had proposed to rebuild his outgoing coalition, an alliance comprising a range of parties including other Islamists, liberals and ex-communists.

But he faced opposition from Aziz Akhannouch – leader of the National Rally of Independents (RNI) and a billionaire former agriculture minister who is close to the king – and the resulting power struggle led to a political impasse.

The PJD was the first Islamist party to win an election in Morocco and the first to lead a government, raising concerns among many in a country traditionally among the more secular of Arab nations.

Its 2011 win came after the king, whose family claims descent from the Prophet Mohammed and has ruled Morocco since the early 1600s, gave up some of his power when thousands took to the streets in peaceful demonstrations inspired by the wave of uprisings across the Arab world.