RABAT (Reuters) - Morocco’s King Mohammed promised a new democratic constitution on Friday that would devolve some of his powers to parliament and the government, adding Moroccans would be able to vote for the changes in a July 1 referendum.
The reformed constitution will shift some powers to government and hold officials more accountable, but the king will retain his grip on security, the army and religion, according to a draft seen by Reuters earlier in the day.
Addressing the nation in a TV address, Mohammed said he would vote for the new charter and urged Moroccans to do likewise.
“We have managed ... to develop a new democratic constitutional charter,” he said.
“I am addressing you today to renew our joint commitment to achieving a significant transition in completing the construction of a state based on the rule of law and on democratic institutions, and ... good governance”
After facing the biggest anti-establishment protests in decades, King Mohammed in March ordered a hand-picked committee to discuss constitutional reform with political parties, trade unions and NGOs. The brief was to trim the 47-year-old monarch’s clout and make the judiciary independent.
The moves by King Mohammed, who heads the Arab world’s longest-serving dynasty, are being closely monitored by Gulf Arab monarchies which have so far dodged calls at home for reforms and are concerned the Moroccan model may raise expectations in their countries.
The final draft of the reformed constitution explicitly grants the government executive powers, although the king would keep exclusive control over military and religious fields and pick a prime minister from the party that wins the polls.
Ministers, ambassadors and provincial governors, who are interior ministry representatives, would be proposed by the prime minister although the king has to approve the choices.
“The constitution gives the head of government (prime minister) the power to propose and dismiss cabinet members, to steer and coordinate government action, and to supervise public service,” Mohammed said in his speech, but he added that he was “the trustworthy guide and supreme arbiter.”
“Appointments in the military remain an exclusive, sovereign prerogative of the King, Supreme Commander and Chief of Staff of the Royal Armed Forces,” he said.
Further, the prime minister would be able to dissolve the lower house of parliament after consulting the king, house speaker and head of the constitutional court.
The new constitution would “enshrine citizenship-based monarchy and the citizen king,” Mohammed said.
Najib Chawki, an activist from the February 20 Movement, said the constitutional reform draft “does not respond to the essence of our demands which is establishing a parliamentary monarchy. We are basically moving from a de facto absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy.”
The movement has called for the creation in Morocco of a parliamentary monarchy, an end to the influence of the king’s inner circle, the dismissal of the government, and for officials and businessmen it accuses of corruption to be put on trial.
Driss Lachgar, Minister in charge of relations with parliament, called the draft “a real revolution and laid the foundations for a parliamentary monarchy.”
Protesters have also demanded that the king fight corruption and limit the influence of the secretive palace elite.
But they have not gone as far as demanding an end to the Arab world’s longest-serving dynasty and have failed to win the sort of mass popular support that toppled the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt, uprisings which inspired the February 20 Movement.
They have, however, attracted activists of various ideological backgrounds from extreme-left to Islamists and from wealthy businessmen to indigenous Amazigh activists.
The reformed constitution allows the king to delegate the task of chairing ministerial council meetings to the prime minister, which can appoint provincial governors and ambassadors — prerogatives currently exclusive to the king.
The February 20 Movement plans to push ahead with protests planned for Sunday. “We will continue to mobilize Moroccans for a democratic constitution that widens the scope of public freedoms,” said Chawki.
Under the proposed reforms, the king would still be able to dissolve parliament but only after consulting the chairman of a newly introduced Constitutional Court, of which half the members will be appointed by the king.
The reform will introduce a Supreme Security Council which will be chaired by the king as a platform for consultations on domestic and foreign security issues.
It will include among its members the prime minister, speakers of the bi-cameral parliament and senior army officers.
The reformed constitution also recognizes Tamazight as an official language alongside Arabic, a move which looks set to appease Amazigh activists within February 20 Movement. Amazigh are North Africa’s original inhabitants before Arabs conquered it in the seventh century to spread Islam.
Editing by John Irish; Editing by Jon Boyle