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Moroccans To Vote On Referendum

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Moroccans To Vote On Referendum

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Moroccans To Vote On Referendum

Moroccans To Vote On Referendum

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The referendum vote in Morocco will be held Friday. The vote comes after the wave of protests that swept Tunisia and Egypt a few months ago. King Mohammed VI — Morocco's monarch — addressed the nation in March and proposed constitutional changes. Experts say the referendum is likely to pass — but with mixed reception. Robert Siegel talks to AFP reporter Michael Mainville about Friday's vote.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Well, now to an Arab country where the Arab Spring has not been quite so dramatic, but it could produce some results this week. During the wave of protests that swept Tunisia and Egypt a few months ago, pro-reform activists also took to the streets in Morocco.

King Mohammed VI addressed his nation in March and promised comprehensive constitutional reform, and now, his proposals are on the ballot in a referendum tomorrow. It would create not quite a constitutional monarchy, but it would move some authority from the king to the parliament. Experts say it's likely to pass, but many of those protestors - from what's known as the February 20th Movement - say it falls far short of what they were demanding.

For more on Friday's vote, I'm joined by Michael Mainville, reporter for the French press agency Agence France-Presse, AFP. He's in Morocco's capital of Rabat. Welcome to the program.

Mr. MICHAEL MAINVILLE (Reporter, Agence France-Presse): Hi, thank you.

SIEGEL: And first, tell us about the proposed changes to the constitution that will be on the ballot tomorrow.

Mr. MAINVILLE: Like you said, this is a step towards a constitutional monarchy in Morocco. The current constitution makes the king, Mohammed VI, not only the head of state, the head of the Islamic faith and the head of the military but also the head of the government. And what this referendum will change, this new constitution will change is it will make the prime minister the head of the government instead. And the king will be required to choose the prime minister from the party that wins the most votes in parliament. Rather than in the current constitution, the king can choose any one he wants to be prime minister.

There a couple of other changes as well that will make the judiciary more independent, grant more power to parliament, remove a reference in the constitution to the king as sacred and also make Berber an official language along with Arabic. That will be the first time that any country in North Africa has recognized a region's indigenous language as an official one.

SIEGEL: Now, those are some changes. What powers would the king retain in spite of this referendum?

Mr. MAINVILLE: Well, the king would still retain wide-ranging powers. There's no question he would remain the key figure in decision making in Morocco. In terms of economic policy, foreign policy, he would still be as powerful, more powerful than the president of a Western country like president of the United States.

SIEGEL: Well, what's your sense, given that there were protests calling for greater democracy and reform, will this referendum do it, or is there still the possibility of people turning out on the streets demanding more?

Mr. MAINVILLE: It's hard to say. The king's idea is clearly to offer these reforms in a bid to stop the protests from growing any further. When he took power in 1999, he was seen as a reformer, and he has taken a number of steps in recent years to bring the country somewhat closer to democracy.

The timing of this is, of course, completely connected with the Arab uprisings in the region. Whether or not this will be enough to appease the people who've taken to the streets here is too early to say. But it's important to note that protesters in Morocco are somewhat different from the protests we've seen in other parts of the region. Protesters here have not called for the overthrow of the king. Unlike in Tunisia and Egypt, they aren't calling for their leader to step down. And at the same time, the authorities here have been more tolerant of protests.

So we aren't in the same kind of volatile situation we've seen in places like Syria or Bahrain. It's more of a moderate revolution.

SIEGEL: And does it appear that there'll be broad participation in the referendum, or are there significant groups that are boycotting it?

Mr. MAINVILLE: Well, the February 20th Protest Movement has called for a boycott, but it's still not clear how many people are going to answer that call. I was out on the streets of Rabat yesterday in the Medina, in the old traditional market, and everyone we spoke to there said they were going to go vote, and they were going to vote yes.

Now, whether or not that's going to translate into a large number of people turning out tomorrow, it's still not clear, and that's going to be a key question here. Because if the turnout is low, that is going to raise questions about the credibility of the election, and that could give some more momentum to the protest movement.

SIEGEL: Well, Michael Mainville, thank you very much for talking with us today.

Mr. MAINVILLE: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Michael Mainville, reporter for Agence France-Presse, AFP, speaking to us from Rabat, the capital of Morocco.

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