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Moroccan king dismisses PM after months of political deadlock

Analysts say the move may have been aimed more at installing politicians close to the palace, rather than easing months of political deadlock
This handout picture released on 30 July 2016 shows Moroccan King Mohammed VI giving a speech in Rabat (AFP)

The dramatic reshuffle of the Moroccan government this week - with the king announcing that the prime minister will be replaced by the former interior minister - could be down to attempts to install figures more favourable to the palace, political analysts have told MEE.

Moroccan King Mohammed VI replaced Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane on Wednesday, and will ask another member of the Justice and Development Party (PJD) to form a government, a statement from the royal cabinet said.

On Friday the palace announced that Saad al-Din al-Othmani, who served as the country's interior minister between 2012 and 2013, has been taked with forming a new government.

The move comes after five months of political deadlock in the North African country, with Benkirane failing to form a coalition government.

The king took the decision "in the absence of signs that suggest an imminent formation" of a government and due to "his concern about overcoming the current blockage" in political negotiations, the royal statement said.

It did not say who he would name to replace Benkirane.

Benkirane had been reappointed after the PJD, which first came to power in 2011, increased its share of the vote in October elections, maintaining its position as the biggest party.

Benkirane has since failed to form a coalition government despite months of talks.

But Mohammed Madani, a professor of Political Sciences at the Mohammed V University in the capital Rabat, says the reshuffle may be part of an attempt to block Benkirane, rather than resolve the political deadlock.

Aziz Akhannouch, president of the National Rally of Independents (NRI) - a party favoured by the Palace - has been called in to block Benikrane's path, Madani said.

"His mission is clear: to create a trans-ideological hub with the Socialist Union of Popular Forces, the liberals from the Constitutional Union and the Popular Movement," Madani told Middle East Eye from his office in Rabat. 

"But the Justice and Development Party is not going to disappear: it is still the biggest party on the electoral and institutional level."

Under Morocco's election law no party can win an outright majority in the 395-seat parliament, making coalition governments a necessity in a system where the king still holds ultimate power.

But the PJD's relations with a former coalition partner, the conservative Istiqlal party, had soured over economic reforms, and talks over the formation of a government with the center-right National Rally of Independence (RNI) party stalled.

Benkirane's efforts have met with resistance from parties said to be close to the palace.

Royalist supporters have been reluctant to share power with Islamic parties since the king ceded some powers in 2011 to ease protests.

The palace, however, says the king maintains equal distance from all parties, and dismisses claims of royal interference.

Economic impact

Concern has mounted over the impact the political impasse is having on Morocco's economy.

This year's budget, which should have been approved by parliament by the end of 2016, cannot be passed until a government is in place.

Speculation had been building that King Mohammed would attempt to break the political deadlock following his return on Tuesday from a tour of African states.

The palace statement said the king will receive the new prime minister shortly, and will task him with forming a government.

The king thanked Benkirane for his service as prime minister, praising him for his "effectiveness, competence and self-sacrifice".

A source in the PJD told Reuters the party had met on Thursday morning to discuss the king's decision, which Benkirane said he accepted.

"This is our king and he came to a decision under the framework of the constitution, which I've always expressed support for," he told Reuters.

"I'm going to perform ablution, pray, and continue working on the ground."