Morocco has a well-developed multi-party system with varying numbers of officially recognized parties and remarkably stable and long-lived leadership.
The largest traditional party is the Istiqlal (Independence) Party, whose leader after its formation in 1943 was 'Alal al-Fasi. The Istiqlal, once a firm supporter of the throne, now follows a reformist program and backs the king on specific measures only; it had no representation in the government from 1963 to 1977.
The National Union of Popular Forces (Union Nationale des Forces Populaires—UNFP) was formed in September 1959, following a split in the ranks of the Istiqlal in January of that year. At that time, the UNFP was a coalition of left-wing ex-Istiqlalis, trade unionists, resistance fighters, and dissident members of minor political parties and drew support from the modern cities (Casablanca) and the Sous River Valley. Among its leaders were Mehdi bin Barka; Muhammad al-Basri, a leader of the Liberation Army in 1953–55; 'Abderrahim Bouabid; and Mahjub bin Sadiq, head of the Moroccan Labor Union (Union Marocaine du Travail— UMT). The party was handicapped by factionalism and further weakened by the political neutrality of the UMT after 1963, by the kidnapping and disappearance of Bin Barka in France in 1965, and by other apparent instances of government repression, including the imprisonment of Bin Sadiq in 1967.
In 1970, the UNFP and Istiqlal, having lost some popular support, formed the National Front to boycott the elections. The Front was dissolved in 1972, by which time the split between the political and trade union wings of the UNFP had become open, and in 1973 many UNFP leaders were arrested and tried for sedition in connection with civil disorders and guerrilla activities. The UNFP formally split into two parties in 1974, the more radical trade union wing calling itself the UNFP and the political wing forming the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (Union Socialiste des Forces Populaires—USFP).
The program of the Moroccan Communist Party has often been close to that of the UNFP. From 1969 to 1974, the Communist Party was banned, but since then it has appeared under various names. Two communist parties contested the 1997 elections, the Party of Renewal and Progress (PRP) and the Organization of Action for Democracy and the People (OADP), with the PRP obtaining nine seats in the lower house and seven in the upper house, while the OADP obtained four in the lower house and none in the upper house. The USFP, Istiqlal, PRP, and OADP formed the Democratic Block.
The National Entente block was made up of three parties: the conservative Popular Movement (MP), the conservative National Democratic Party (PND), and the centrist Constitutional Union.
The Center block was made up of the National Rally of Independents (RNI), the Democratic and Social Movement (MDS), and the National Popular Movement (MNP).
In addition, there are various other parties of liberal, socialist or Islamist orientation, the latter represented by the moderate Constitutional and Democratic Popular Movement (MPCD), which changed its name at the end of 1998 to the Party of Justice and Development (PJD).
King Hassan II sometimes worked through the party system and sometimes ignored it. In 1963, royalist forces united into the Front for the Defense of Constitutional Institutions. A leading party in the Front was the Popular Movement (Mouvement Populaire—MP), the party of Berber mountaineers. Governments formed by Hassan II have consisted of MP members, followers of royalist front parties, and independents and technocrats loyal to the king. Following 1993 elections, which saw Istiqlal and the USFP winning a majority of the elected seats, the king used his power to appoint friendly deputies to the seats he controls. Opposition parties protested by refusing to participate in the government. In 1996, the king submitted for referendum revisions to the constitution allowing for direct election for all members of parliament, a move greeted with initial suspicion but ultimately heralded as democratic as the 1997 elections for the newly comprised body approached. The various parties formed into Blocks, as listed above, though maintaining separate candidate lists. The results showed 15 parties gaining seats in the lower house and 13 obtaining seats in the upper house.
Twenty-six political parties participated in the 27 September 2002 elections for the Chamber of Representatives. The USFP took 50 seats; Istiqlal won 48; the Justice and Development Party (PJD) won 42; the National Rally of Independents won 41 seats; the Popular Movement took 27; the National Popular Movement took 18; the Constitutional Union won 16; and 15 other parties were represented. Women were guaranteed 10% of the seats. Two new political parties were recognized by the government for the 2002 elections—the Moroccan Liberal Party (PLM) and the Alliance of Liberties (ADL), which aimed to involve the youth and women in political action. The ADL won 4 seats in the Chamber of Representatives. The Islamist Justice and Development Party trebled the number of its seats in parliament, coming in third behind the USFP and Istiqlal. Justice and Charity, said to be the largest Islamist group, remains banned.
In the 2002 elections, parties were organized in the following blocks: the left-wing block, comprised of the USFP; the Party for Progress and Socialism (PPS), formerly the Communist Party; the Leftist Unified Socialist Party (PGSU), formerly the OADP; and the Socialist Democratic Party. The center-right block is comprised of the Istiqlal Party and the PJD. The Berberist block includes the Popular Movement (MP); the National Popular Movement (MNP); and the Social Democratic Movement (MDS). The conservative block consisted of the National Rally of Independents (RNI) and the Constitutional Union (UC). Driss Jettou was named prime minister.