RABAT, Morocco, Oct. 19 (UPI) — Last month Morocco proved why it is well on its way to becoming a model for elections in Africa and elsewhere. A delegation of Prague Society election observers — along with 3,000 other observers spread throughout the land — was witness to democracy in action. From the old to the young, from the literate to the illiterate, from men to women — excitement was palpable.
Fifteen million voters were called upon to select from 6,691 candidates. Thirty-three political parties participated. Those gaining at least 6 percent of the vote were eligible to sit in Parliament. Women represented 3 percent of the candidates and headed 58 of the 1,870 lists.
Barbara Day, the English author and translator, and I were sent to Sefrou, a city of 150,000 about 22 miles from Fez.
Sefrou’s history is dominated by religion. It was a Jewish city before Islam was introduced in the 8th century. It was a major stopping point for traders making their way from the Mediterranean to the Sahara. The city was a melting pot of culture as Jewish Berber Moroccans and Algerians had been settling there since the 13th century. Because so many people passed through Sefrou — which sits at the base of the Middle Atlas Mountains — business flourished. Sefrou still has one of the most elegant Medinas in the world. Though much smaller, the Medina still has a charm much like that of Fez. Sefrou is mostly known for its cherry festival.
The day before I had boarded a plane in Paris where I met up with Gen. Constantin Degeratu, the Romanian chief of staff, and his colleague, Ambassador Gheorghe Tinca, the first civilian defense minister of Romania. We are old partners-in-arms from the days of post-communism. They would be sent to one of the rougher areas around Casablanca.
Day and Czech Deputy Justice Minister Martin Moulis joined from Prague. Sen. Edward Outrata, who has held leading positions in both Canada and the Czech Republic, was by joined Yossef Bodansky of the U.S. International Strategic Studies Association. Global Panel Executive Director Kai Metzner flew in from Berlin, and the journalist Yoichiro Kawai joined from Tokyo.
After a late-night briefing, teams of two were spread across the many thousands of miles of Morocco. Outrata, Moulis, Metzner and Kawai flew another 930 miles to the Sahara. There was an air of expectation.
Our goal was to monitor at least 10 percent of the polling stations in our perspective areas.
Day and I were moved by the simple things we saw.
One of the first persons to vote was an elderly man. He could not understand the ballot and did not have I.D. with him. The election chair turned to the members of the parties present (each political party was permitted an observer) to ask if anyone knew the man. A representative nodded, and the chair took the elderly man to the voting booth. Prior to his entering, the chair loudly, clearly and unbiasedly explained his options for all to hear. When the man left, he had a smile of accomplishment and hummed a wistful melody.
It was moving. It was the first time he had ever voted.
As observers, we tried not to be intrusive. Nonetheless, many of the voters smiled at us and — if language permitted — asked us where we were from. There was a genuine pride among the voters and a sense of satisfaction that international observers would come to watch the Moroccan elections. Morocco has always been a place of acceptance. While the majority of inhabitants are Muslim, Morocco’s rich religious history and modern heritage have close ties with the Christian and Jewish faiths — and religious tolerance in general. This is still true today.
As we moved from polling station to polling station, we would meet other observers and compare notes. Each polling station was a world unto its own. Some were filled with religious men and women wearing traditional head scarves and coverings. Others were filled with those dressed in modern attire. A genuine sense of multiculturalism pervaded the atmosphere. People took care of each other.
As the day came to an end and we returned to Rabat, Moroccan television interviewed me, Day and other observers. I will repeat now what we said then: The Moroccan elections were fair, open and a role model for other countries.
I will again be attacked by ignorants who resent my point of view on Morocco.
No matter what they say and write, the Moroccan elections stand on their own merit.
(UPI Columnist Marc S. Ellenbogen is chairman of the Global Panel Foundation and president of the Prague Society. A venture capitalist with seats in Berlin and Prague, he sits on the National Advisory Board of the U.S. Democratic Party where he is the vice chairman of the Democratic Expat Leadership Council.)