The Commission for Constitutional Reform, referred to as the Mennouni Commission, has been heavily criticized for being handpicked by The King himself, thus sustaining the same top to bottom approach that the Moroccan change movement is opposing. Yet, when the Feb20 youth movement refused a meeting invitation by the commission’s President Dr. Mennouni, many wondered if their move was unconstructive.
In reality, it’s not so much the fact that the King handpicked all the members of the constitutional reform commission, or the refusal of the feb20 youth members to meet with Mennouni, that undermine the scope of democratic constitutional change: it is rather the approach undertaken by the Mennouni Commission.
“Leaks” came out this week about what the new constitution would look like. The fact that the news was widely labeled as “leaks” is a clear indication of the secretive approach chosen by the Mennouni Commission. There were also reports that the commission has invited political parties and labor associations to provide feedback on the constitutional proposal without allowing them the adequate time or opportunity to discuss and propose alternatives. As it turns out, the Mennouni team has failed to display the democratic mind-set and stakeholders’ involvement tools that could have led to a popular constitutional proposal. To fill this void, citizens are increasingly gathering around parallel groups such as the FCCD in order to brainstorm the scope and goals of a constitutional reform.
Could the Mennouni Commission have garnered legitimacy, regardless of the fact that it was established through absolute power of the King and the Feb 20’s choice not to participate? Arguably, yes, if only the commission had observed some democratic prerequisites, such as:
- Transparency: The commission’s meetings and discussions are being held behind closed doors. Since the King’s historic speech on March 9th, not once has Mennouni nor his team ever appeared on TV to inform Moroccans about their debates, progress, challenges, nor address the legitimate questions about the commission’s functioning or the reform approach that it is pursuing.
- Accountability: Shouldn’t Moroccans be entitled to periodic interactions with the commission through the media (TV, radio, conferences)? Shouldn’t the commission publish minutes of its meetings? Has the commission lived up to the democratic obligation to openly interact with representatives of the civil society, and listen to their needs and priorities?
- Inclusiveness: The revision process could have been accompanied by an effort to reach out not just to political parties, but also to all the civil society through its various levels and diverse stakeholders: national, local, communal, interest groups (such as women’s associations, and other nonprofits specialized in local development). These various interactions would have helped the commission identify common interests and venues for consensus. Ultimately, it would have served to prepare for a successful constitutional vote.
Instead, sometime in June, the veil will be lifted, and we will then get a short glimpse at Mennouni’s take-it-or-leave-it constitution before a referendum takes place. Moroccans will then face the choice to vote yes, no, or abstain. But, most likely, their vote will be less on the new constitution, than on the reform approach undertaken by Mennouni and his team, which symbolizes business as usual.
Ultimately, the constitutional vote will indicate if Moroccans firmly stand behind change.That is of course, if the voting and counting processes are transparent and truly reflective of popular choice.