Moroccans favor conservative party instead of ushering in Islamic party

RABAT, Morocco: A conservative-leaning secular party will be the largest party in Morocco's new parliament, followed by an Islamic party that had been expected to win, according to final election results announced Monday.

The Istiqlal party of the ruling coalition won 52 of the 325 seats in the lower house of parliament in Friday's vote, the Interior Ministry said, confirming preliminary estimates announced Saturday.

The Justice and Development Party, or PJD, whose growing strength in recent years in this moderate Muslim nation had worried its secular rivals, had 46 seats, up from 42 in the outgoing parliament.

The PJD had hoped for 80 seats, and even rival parties had expected the PJD to come out on top.

The new parliament and resulting government is likely to preserve the country's overall direction, its close ties to the United States, and its commitment to privatization and boosting tourism.

Regardless of the election result, parliament's room for maneuver is limited as power remains concentrated in the hands of King Mohamed VI, his appointees and advisers.

For voters, fear of the unknown appeared to trump the PJD's anti-corruption, antiestablishment message.

Political attention turned to the appointment of a prime minister, who must be named by the king sometime before the new parliament convenes Oct. 12. The government seems likely to be an awkward coalition that could include the PJD for the first time.

The premier does not have to come from the largest party. Possible contenders include former deputy interior minister Fouad Ali el Himma, who resigned from his job last month to run for parliament; Transport Minister Karim Ghellab; and Housing Minister Taoufiq Hejira.

The other surprise of the election was the crash of the center-left Socialist Union of Popular Forces or USFP, which won the last elections in 2002 and ruled together with Istiqlal. This time it dropped to fifth place, with 38 seats. The centrist Popular Movement and RNI parties were in third and fourth, with 41 and 39 seats.

Low turnout — just 37 percent, the lowest in the country's young democratic history — was an embarrassment to the government.

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