Morocco is facing an unprecedented political deadlock after the Islamist prime minister broke off talks on forming a coalition government following three months of fruitless effort.
The impasse — apparently rooted in a power struggle between the Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) and figures close to the royal palace — threatens to provoke a political crisis and possibly even new elections.
King Mohammed VI tasked Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane with forming a new government after his PJD won the most seats in October elections.
The PJD rose to power after the king relinquished some of his near-absolute power following Arab Spring-inspired protests in 2011, with Benkirane heading a previous coalition government for five years.
The PJD faced a serious challenge from the secularist Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) in October’s vote, which campaigned against the “Islamisation” of Moroccan society and came a strong second.
Since the vote Benkirane has been haggling to rebuild his coalition, which had brought together a range of parties including other Islamists, liberals and ex-Communists.
But he has proven unable to secure the 198 of 395 seats needed for a majority and in a surprise statement on Sunday said he was breaking off talks with two parties, the centre-right National Rally of Independence (RNI) and the Popular Movement (MP).
Analysts say the talks have become a power struggle between Benkirane and RNI chief Aziz Akhannouch, a billionaire outgoing agricultural minister who is close to the king.
“Akhannouch’s objective seems clear: to deprive Benkirane of oxygen,” political analyst Mohamed Ennaji said.
Mohammed Madani, another political analyst and law professor in Rabat, said the failure of the coalition talks reflects a wider power struggle.
“Akhannouch is not acting alone, he is the spokesman for the centre of power,” Madani said. “It’s about showing that what counts is not electoral success but closeness to the palace.”