Meknes: Morocco will not follow other North African states in handing power to Islamists when it votes in an election this week because it has a mature democracy, a leading member of a liberal alliance contesting the vote said.
A moderate Islamist party says it believes it can win the November 25 parliamentary election, buoyed by the resurgence of Islamists in the wake of the "Arab Spring" uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
The Islamists` main challenger is the newly-formed Coalition for Democracy which is centered around secularist parties with ties to the court of Morocco`s ruler King Mohammed.
"Morocco is different. It is not Tunisia, nor is it Libya or Egypt," Salaheddine Mezouar, Morocco`s Finance and Economy Minister who is also one of the leaders of the coalition, said in an interview.
"Here in Morocco we have a plurality. Morocco has never known one-party rule. Moroccan political parties have practiced democracy and are well-educated, which makes an outcome of that kind (an Islamist victory) improbable," he said.
"To my knowledge, the Islamists in Morocco are very far from winning first place, but at the end of the day it is the ballot boxes which will decide."
The election is a test of the king`s commitment to respond to the uprisings around the region by moving his kingdom closer to democracy and ceding some of his powers to elected officials.
The vote will almost certainly remove the present government, which many Moroccans associate with corruption and nepotism. Whoever takes over will nevertheless be no less loyal to the monarch.
At issue is whether the election will hand power to the Coalition for Democracy, whose leaders are younger and less tainted by governing than many of those currently in power, or to the opposition Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD).
Islamist party officials have accused their opponents of trying to keep them out of power by bribing voters, a phenomenon that has blighted previous elections.
Mezouar, whose National Rally of Independents is one of eight parties making up the liberal coalition, said it was time for a break with the murky electoral practices of the past.
"We want a new Morocco with competent elected officials," he said. "These practices have always existed in all Morocco`s political parties, but it is not encouraged by the parties. These are individual practices, by certain elected officials."
"We have been firm in the coalition: anyone found carrying out these practices will be expelled."
The biggest challenge facing the palace in the election is the risk that voters, disillusioned with a contest that many do not believe will bring real change to their lives, will stay at home on polling day, analysts say.
A protest movement, inspired by the "Arab Spring" uprisings, is urging people to boycott the election, saying it is not truly democratic.
"We do not have any problems with those who call for a boycott," said Mezouar in the city of Meknes, about 150 km east of the capital, where he was on the campaign trail.
"But the problem that arises if you propose a boycott is, what`s the alternative? Should we leave the country without constitutional institutions? ... We are betting on a big turnout in this election."
If the Coalition for Democracy wins enough seats to form the next government, it will have to re-balance public finances.
The outgoing government, in an effort to prevent "Arab Spring" unrest spreading to Morocco, spent heavily on increasing public wages and subsidizing staple goods.
That leaves little for major infrastructure projects that are planned to create jobs and stimulate growth.
Mezouar said if his alliance wins it will promote partnerships with the private sector to get big projects off the ground and raise tax revenue to curb the budget deficit.
He said the coalition would tackle the hugely inefficient subsidy system by taking half of the cash devoted to it and using that money instead for targeted assistance for the poorest people. Some state assets could also be sold.
"Our program does not rule out privatization. We say that to subsidize investment funds, it is possible to sell a part of the state`s shares in certain enterprises," said Mezouar.