Moroccan cabinet loses five ministers
A picture taken at the royal palace in Rabat shows Moroccan King Mohammed VI (first row C) and crown prince Moulay Hassan posing for a family picture of the new government led by moderate Islamist Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane. (AFP/Azzouz Boukallouch)
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The king of Morocco on Monday accepted the resignation of cabinet ministers from the junior party in the ruling coalition, the palace said, a move that opens the way for Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane to begin trying to form a new government.
Five ministers from the conservative Istiqlal party quit this month, arguing among other things that the senior partner, the Islamist Justice and Development party (PJD), was hurting the poor by reducing food and fuel subsidies too fast.
"The king has accepted these resignations and urged the outgoing ministers to remain in office until the appointment of others," said the statement, carried by the state news agency. "This will allow the prime minister to begin consultations to form a new coalition."
Benkirane has told local media that he will hold talks with all parties to seek a new coalition partner.
"Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane is acting like the head of a political party rather than the head of a government that represents the people," Istiqlal spokesman Adil Benhamza had said during the resignations' announcement on July 9.
"PJD wants to raise prices and hit the poorest, while we prefer to pick up some billions which are in the hands of speculators by controlling imports," Benhamza said.
Morocco defused Arab Spring-style protests in 2011 with a combination of social spending, harsh policing and constitutional reforms that paved the way for the PJD to come to power.
However, last year the government agreed to implement economic reforms including deregulating many prices of staple goods in return for a two-year, $6.2 billion precautionary credit line from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Benkirane said last month that the IMF criticized his government for being too slow to enact the reforms, which will mean pain for households used to subsidized oil, gas, sugar and other staples.
Nevertheless, the planned subsidy cuts have been delayed until after the current Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Subsidies burned up 53.36 billion dirhams ($ 6.31 billion) of public money in 2012, or 6.4 pct of Morocco's GDP, and the government has said it expects to cut this by a fifth.