RABAT: Moroccans largely welcomed Thursday King Mohammed VI’s promise of sweeping reforms, announced as uprisings rock the Arab world, but said they wanted to see if concrete changes would result.
The king announced plans for constitutional reform and real powers for a popularly elected prime minister instead of a royal appointee in a rare national address late Wednesday that comes after protests demanding change.
The country’s two television channels rebroadcast large extracts of the address throughout the morning Thursday, accompanied by mostly positive commentary, but the speech was too late to feature in the newspapers.
"It is a very good speech which responded to the demands of many Moroccans, especially the ‘February 20’ youths," civil servant Mohammed Oussedri told AFP.
The youths rallied thousands of people to pro-democracy protests in several cities on February 20, with six people killed in unrest that erupted afterwards. They have called, via Facebook, for more protests on March 20.
"I hope this continues well, it is a positive step," Oussedri said.
In his first national address since the February 20 protests, the king announced the formation of a commission to work on constitutional revisions, with proposals to be made to him by June.
A referendum will then be held, he said, without giving a date.
Manager Naima Glaf told AFP he hoped there would be a massive overhaul of the current constitution.
"We want a constitution that breaks with the one we have now, a real separation of powers and a more powerful prime minister who can be held accountable so he can be punished in case things go wrong," he said.
"The upcoming consultations for constitutional reform must involve the ‘February 20’ youths and the parties from the left who have always called for constitutional reform."
A 22-year-old student who gave his name only as Rachid said that while many of his compatriots had welcomed the king’s speech positively, he expected more substance.
"I think he did not mention concrete reforms like the fight against corruption in the circles of power, social injustices, and the unfairness of the access to administrative jobs, which are monopolized by certain families," he said.
Protests in Morocco have focused on calls for social justice and limits on royal powers, and the authorities have reacted by saying they "hear" the people and would speed up reforms already planned.
King Mohammed underlined Wednesday a "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.
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," he 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."
Opposition Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) leader Abdelilah Benkirane welcomed the speech, saying late Wednesday that Mohammed had "reacted positively to the demands made by the parties and young people".
"We are almost surprised," he said.
"This speech breaks with the monarchy as an executive power," added political scientist Mohamed Darif.
"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," he said.