Morocco’s long-ruling Islamists have suffered a crushing defeat in parliamentary elections to liberal parties, according to provisional results announced early Thursday.
It was far behind its main liberal rivals, the National Rally of Independents (RNI) and the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM), with 97 and 82, respectively, and the centre-right Istiqlal Party with 78 seats in the 395-seat assembly.
The Justice and Development Party (PJD), which headed the ruling coalition for a decade, saw its support collapse from 125 seats in the outgoing assembly to just 12, Interior Minister Abdelouafi Laftit said during a press briefing following Wednesday’s polls.
The RNI, which was a junior member of the governing coalition, is headed by businessman Aziz Akhannouch.
And the main opposition PAM was founded by the current royal adviser, Fouad Ali El Himma, in 2008.
The Istiqlal (Independence) party, the oldest in Morocco, made a remarkable comeback, adding 32 seats.
The magnitude of the Islamists’ defeat was unexpected as, despite the absence of opinion polls that are banned near election time, the media and analysts had believed the PJD would still take first place.
Swept to power in the wake of the 2011 uprisings around the Middle East and North Africa, the PJD had hoped to secure a third term leading a ruling coalition.
King Mohammed VI OF Morocco will name a prime minister from the party that won the poll to govern the nation of 36 million for the next five years, succeeding Saad-Eddine El Othmani.
The final results should be known on Thursday.
But changes to the voting system meant that it was the first time Morocco’s 18 million voters cast ballots in both parliamentary and local elections on the same day, in an effort to boost turnout.
Turnout was 50.35 percent, according to the interior minister, higher than the 43 percent at the previous legislative polls in 2016, but lower than the 53 percent during the 2015 local elections.
On Wednesday evening, the Islamists alleged “serious irregularities,” including “obscene cash handouts” near polling stations and “confusion” on some electoral rolls, with some voters finding they were not listed.
However, the interior minister said voting took place “under normal circumstances” apart from some isolated incidents.