Wednesday, December 13

Morocco's new cabinet held up over key jobs

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* New cabinet uncertain a month after polls

* Justice and foreign affairs are main points of disagreement

By Souhail Karam

RABAT, Dec 30 (Reuters) – A bid by the moderate Islamist party PJD to finalise the line-up of a power-sharing cabinet in Morocco has been held up, mainly by opposition from King Mohammed’s circle, sources said on Friday.

PJD (Justice and Development) won most seats in a Nov. 25 election which the king had brought forward by nearly a year in an effort to stave off the revolts sweeping the Arab world.

King Mohammed then appointed PJD leader Abdelilah Benkirane as prime minister-designate, allowing him to start talks with coalition partners for a new government.

The election followed reforms proposed by the palace to narrow the king’s sweeping powers in favour of elected officials in response to protests pressing for a British or Spanish-style monarchy.

Media reports last week quoted Benkirane as saying he had submitted the government line-up for the king to approve and that it would be unveiled on Dec. 26 after he concluded talks with three parties in his coalition.

But, they said, the palace was not pleased about Benkirane’s proposals for the justice and foreign ministries.

Two sources familiar with the process confirmed these reports to Reuters. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not allowed to speak to the media on the confidential process.

PJD member Mustapha Khalfi denied that there was a delay.

“The procedure for the appointment by the king of a new cabinet is not a spontaneous affair. The names have to be discussed,” he told Reuters.

Chakib Laroussi, a spokesman for the Royal cabinet, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Benkirane has agreed to concede to the king the appointment of the defence portfolio, religious affairs and the powerful general-secretariat, a sort of legal advisor for the government, the sources said.

It has widely been expected that the new charter would limit interference by the royal court in the appointment of justice, religious affairs, interior, defence, foreign affairs and the government’s general secretariat.

Ali Anozla, editor of the independent news portal Lakome.com, said the insistence by PJD on their nominees, especially the justice ministry, may force them to start again.

The monarch might want to avoid this so avoid tarnishing perceptions of its reforms at home and overseas.

Benkirane proposed for the justice minister’s role Mustafa Ramid, a prominent lawyer and human right activist who has often been critical of the security services’ record.

“The palace fears that Ramid is a bit of renegade. He is not flexible enough,” one of the two sources said.

Contacted by Reuters, Ramid declined to comment.

For the foreign minister’s job, he proposed Saad-Eddine El-Othmani, a career psychiatrist.

Royal advisors, acting as middlemen between Benkirane and the king in the negotiations over the cabinet, feel that Othmani is not the best candidate, the sources said.

Khalfi said the finance portfolio looks set to be led by a PJD member. Several sources cite Najib Boulif, an economics university lecturer and a supporter of Islamic finance, hitherto little-developed in Morocco.

The king hopes the fresh faces at the top of government, and at least the appearance of change, will stave off the pressure for a more revolutionary transformation, inspired by the Arab uprisings.

The reforms won overwhelming support in a July 1 referendum but the protests are still continuing. The new charter subjects any government appointment to obtaining the king’s approval.

Morocco’s parliament also has yet to approve a budget for 2012. The incumbent government on Wednesday extended credit lines to ensure the sustainability of the public sector.

PJD’s strong showing in the election came after years in opposition. It promised to increase democracy, reform the judiciary, cut corruption and tackle widespred inequalities.

(Reporting By Souhail Karam; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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