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    New Leader Nizar Baraka Faces Difficult Task of Reviving Declining Istiqlal

    09 Oct 2017

    On Saturday 924 out of the 1284 members of the Istiqlal Party‘s National Council which convened in Rabat to elect a new leader chose Nizar Baraka as new Secretary General.

    With his election, the era of Hamid Chabat, the embattled former leader whose mandate has been the most controversial in the party’s history that spans over more than half a century, was declared over.

    Baraka, the grandson of Allal El Fassi, Istiqlal‘s iconic leader and one of the greatest politicians and intellectuals in Moroccan modern history, can use his lineage to spread the image of a leader who will embody the party’s heritage.

    Unifying A Divided House

    Baraka’s style and his personality stands in total contrast with the populist image of Chabat whose mandate was marked by the party’s regression on the political scene and unprecedented internal conflict between those who supported the former leader and those who sought ousting him.

    Though Baraka clearly lacks the charisma of his predecessor, on the other hand he is seen as a “man of consensus”. This might help in bringing together the party’s warring factions.

    Since Chabat made uncalculated statements about Mauritania’s sovereignty in December 2016, nearly causing a diplomatic crisis with Morocco’s southern neighbor, opposition started to grow, calling on him to step down, pointing to his controversial record since he took over as party leader in 2012.

    Baraka, the former minister of finance and current president of the advisory state-body CESE (Social, Economic & Environmental Council), started along with other co-party and former ministers Taoufik Hjira and Yasmina Badou campaigning against Chabat.

    The anti-Chabat wing benefited especially from the support of Hamdi Ould Rachid, the Sahrawi MP whose influence within the party is growing. For months, Chabat and Ould Rachid fought intensively over control over the party and the General Union of Moroccan Workers (UGTM), the labor union affiliated to Istiqlal.

    Ould Rachid’s faction ultimately took over UGTM. Even though some of Chabat’s key allies deserted him afterwards, he refused to throw in the towel. Clashes between his supporters and those backed by Ould Rachid during Istiqlal’s convention on September 29-30 was a clear indication that the former leader will fight till the end.

    With his fate now sealed, his successor will have the hard task of mending fences between the the competing factions within the party. Baraka’s personality will probably help as he is not expected to be the kind of contested leader that Chabat had been.

    Regaining Self-Confidence

    A couple of months ago, Baraka started campaigning against Chabat and garnering support for his upcoming bid for the party leadership. The former minister of economy advocated for what he could embracing the party’s former values. “Istiqlal must become again a party of thought, principles and daring positions”, he told the press during the party’s extraordinary convention in April.

    During Chabat’s mandate, Istiqlal lost 16 parliamentary seats in the general elections of October 2016 in comparison with five years earlier. The regression was partly attributed to the Istiqlal’s decision to withdrew from the government coalition in 2013. A move that was led by Chabat who would then turn into an opponent of the government head, Abdelilah Benkirane, the Secretary General of the Justice and Development Party (PJD), before changing tactics two years later and become an ally of Benkirane and his party.

    While it is yet too early to talk about upcoming electoral challenges, as the municipal elections will not be held before three years and the general elections kick off a year later, Baraka will have to start rebuilding a party some believe is in decline to make sure it regains its former positions as the first or second political forces in the country, or at least preserve its position among the top three.

    Unlike the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP), the former major party in the country, Istiqlal’s consecutive participation in government coalitions from 1998 to 2011 did not affect its popularity.

    However, Chabat’s populist style leadership harmed the image of a party that was once led by some of the most prominent politicians in Moroccan modern history.

    Baraka presented himself as a candidate of “change”, and promised to add fresh blood to the party so that it can gain its previous glory.

    “The party has to develop its way of thinking to present solutions to citizens so that our country face challenges”, he told the press following his election. “Our goal is to regain the confidence of our Istiqlal members and citizens in our party”.


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