RABAT, Morocco (AP) — Morocco's Islamist party dominated this North African kingdom's urban areas in local elections, but trailed in total seats behind two parties with strong backing in the countryside, according to final results announced Saturday.
The elections were seen as an important test of the popularity of the Islamist-led government which came to power after the pro-democracy demonstrations of the 2011 Arab Spring and face new parliamentary elections next year.
The local and regional councils manage municipal affairs in conjunction with state-appointed officials and are being strengthened under a new government policy of regionalization.
Some 30,000 local council seats and 700 regional council seats were contested by more than 140,000 candidates from at least 30 parties. The ministry reported a turnout of 53 percent.
The Islamist Party for Justice and Development took the most seats in the regional councils with 25 percent of the total, but fell short in the local councils, which are weighted towards rural areas.
The Party of Authenticity and Modernity took 6,655 seats of the local councils, 21 percent, while the conservative Istiqlal (Independence) Party took 5,106 seats, or 16 percent of the total.
The PJD, as the Islamist party is known, is mainly strong in the cities among educated voters and took control of councils in the main cities of Casablanca, Tangiers, Rabat, Fez and Agadir with just under 16 percent of seats — three times what it won in 2009 local contests.
The PAM was created in 2008 by one of the king's counselors and it dominated local elections the following year.
It fared poorly, however, in the 2011 parliamentary elections amid Arab Spring-inspired calls for reform. Those elections were dominated by the PJD which went on to form a government.
Unlike their counterparts elsewhere around the region, Morocco's Islamists have played down religious issues in their campaigns and preferred to focus on combatting corruption and unemployment.
The party has preserved its popularity despite implementing austerity measures and cutting energy subsidies to reduce the budget deficit.
Political analyst Maati Monjib said the PJD's success with urban voters is a reflection of their anti-corruption stance and a belief they are anti-status quo in a country still dominated by the monarchy.
"The PJD are still seen as anti-system and are not associated with the corruption of the regime," he said.