Moroccan king appoints billionaire former minister as premier

RABAT • Morocco's King Mohammed VI has appointed billionaire fuel tycoon Aziz Akhannouch as prime minister after his party came first in parliamentary elections this past week.

Mr Akhannouch, a former agriculture minister, is one of Morocco's richest men with an estimated fortune of US$2 billion (S$2.68 billion).

He has led the liberal National Rally of Moroccan Independents (RNI) party since 2016, and declared the results of the elections as "a victory for democracy, its spirit and its rules".

On Wednesday, RNI won 102 of the 395 seats in Parliament as the vote share of the moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) that had been the biggest in the previous two elections collapsed.

Under reforms introduced in 2011, the king picks the prime minister from the largest party in Parliament but retains veto power over Cabinet members. In recent years, the king has taken back more powers within the palace walls, analysts say.

RNI is seen as close to the royal establishment and Mr Akhannouch said in a speech after the election results were declared that he would "implement his majesty's vision".

Mr Akhannouch, whose holding company operates in the fuel and gas distribution business and was targeted by a consumer boycott campaign in 2018 over prices, has pushed RNI as a champion of social and economic reforms.

The RNI has promised to create one million jobs to boost the economy's recovery after the coronavirus pandemic, expand health insurance, increase teacher salaries and provide a guaranteed pension for the elderly.

It must now build a governing coalition that can command a parliamentary majority of at least 198 seats.

The next-largest party after Wednesday's vote was the Authenticity and Modernity Party, which is also liberal and pro-establishment, with 86 seats.

The former ruling party PJD, whose leader Saad Dine El Otmani had been prime minister since 2017, has complained of violations in the elections, including what it said was vote buying by rivals.

However, after securing only 13 seats compared to 125 in 2016 it has said it will go into opposition and not seek to join the next governing coalition. Mr Otmani and some other senior members have resigned their party posts.

Morocco's economy is expected to grow 5.8 per cent after contracting by 6.8 per cent last year under the combined impact of the coronavirus pandemic and droughts.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 12, 2021, with the headline 'Moroccan king appoints billionaire former minister as premier'. Subscribe