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Morocco readies for regional and local elections

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FADEL SENNA/AFP or licensors


Around 18 million Moroccans are expected to cast their ballots in pivotal legislative and regional elections on September 8, amid strict safety guidelines for campaigning parties, as the North African country grapples with a new wave of COVID-19 driven mainly by the delta variant.

The political parties are going to the streets in small groups of a maximum of 25 members and have intensified their campaigns on social media following the restrictions imposed due to the pandemic.

In addition to changes in the way the parties campaign, the pandemic has also been one of the main concerns of the voters, who are hoping the elections can bring changes and help to overcome the economic crisis deepened by COVID-19.

Unemployed 23-year-old Redouane Bahemmou lives in Temara, a coastal city near Rabat.

Like other young people in Morocco who can't find a job, he has considered emigration as an option to fulfil his dreams and have a better life abroad, even if that means putting his life at risk.

But Bahemmou hopes the candidates trying to get a seat in parliament this year can understand what people need and will work for the changes the country demands.

"I know that we all love our country, it is the best country, but we need a change," he said.

Lack of work, lack of clients, lack of financial support, that's what the pandemic has meant also for Fatima, a 41-year-old widow and mother of four children who runs a beauty saloon in Salé, a city located near the capital.

Her husband died two years ago. She had enough to sustain their children with the money she earned at that time working as hairdresser, but when the pandemic hit North Africa, her situation became more difficult.

"After this pandemic, everything changed. We have experienced a serious crisis, there is no income especially after the decisions to close hairdressing saloons several times," Fatima said.

Like others, she was putting her hopes in the Wednesday elections, and expecting the politicians to help the people.

"We hope to have good news after these elections, so we can improve our situation," she said.

Reda Azzouzi, who has owned a gym in Rabat for the past three years, also hopes for a loosening in virus restrictions.

They (government) are closing our gyms again (due to the pandemic), everyone knows the expenses we have to pay, and at the same time we have not received any financial support," he said.

"We hope that after these elections, and after the appointment of the new president of the government - which we do not know yet who (they) will be - they open our gyms again."

For political analyst Mustafa Yassine, the Moroccans and especially the young people "are betting on these elections in order to open new horizons."

In addition to the pandemic, the new rules of the electoral system also brought challenges to the political parties.

Morocco's Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD), which has won the most seats in elections since 2011, faces a tough test from other parties.

The changes introduced to the electoral system - where seats are granted based on the number of registered voters rather than the number of those who actually cast the ballot - might see the party lose the majority it has kept in the parliament for years.

Analysts fear the new method of allocating parliamentary seats could further fracture the Moroccan political landscape and produce a highly divided parliament which would need to form a coalition to form a government.

The PJD's biggest competitors are the National Rally of Independents Party and the Authenticity and Modernity Party.

On Wednesday, voters will choose the 395 deputies to form the house of representatives and 678 seats in regional councils.

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