TANGIER, Morocco (Reuters) - Thousands of Moroccans protested in cities across the country on Sunday calling for a boycott of a parliamentary election later this week which they say will not be truly democratic.
The November 25 vote is a test of reforms made by Morocco’s ruler, King Mohammed, to try to defuse pressure for change in the Arab world’s longest-serving dynasty in the wake of uprisings this year across the Middle East.
A Reuters reporter in the city of Tangier, across the Strait of Gibraltar from Spain, said about 10,000 protesters had gathered in a square in the working class Beni Mkada district.
A witness in Casablanca, Morocco’s commercial hub, said at least 6,000 people had turned up for a parallel protest, despite heavy rain. Two western diplomats and a resident in the capital, Rabat, put the turnout for a protest there at about 3,000 people.
At the Tangier protest, one group of protesters carried a mock casket draped in white with the words “parliamentary elections” written across it.
Demonstrators chanted “We are not voting. Long live the people” and “We are not voting because we are not cattle.”
About 200 police officers, equipped with metal riot shields, helmets and truncheons, cordoned off the square but there were no clashes. One police officer put the number of protesters in Tangier at less than 1,000.
Faced earlier this year with protests inspired by the “Arab Spring” uprising, King Mohammed backed constitutional reforms which handed over some of his powers to elected officials.
He kept his final say on issues of defense, national security and religion.
The palace wants the election to clear out a government associated in the minds of many Moroccans with graft and replace it with new faces who will implement the king’s reforms.
The vote has pitted a party of moderate Islamists, who swear loyalty to the king, against a coalition of mainly liberal parties with close ties to the palace.
The movement in support of the boycott is unlikely to derail the election because it does not resonate with the majority of the population, who are not politically engaged and revere the king.
In Tangier, Abdelaziz, a 32-year-old, watched the protest as he sold snail soup from a cart. A university graduate, he said he had been unable to find proper unemployment and so had been selling soup for three years instead.
“They (officials) promise that these elections will change things for the better but we always hear the same tune and nothing ever changes. You just vote and that’s the end of it,” he said.
But he said he also had little faith in the protesters calling for a boycott. “I don’t think they will make any difference,” he said.
Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Andrew Heavens