Morocco's moderate Islamist PJD party won the most seats in the country's parliamentary election, final results showed Sunday, in the latest sign of a resurgence of faith-based movements since the Arab Spring uprisings.
The victory for Morocco's Justice and Development Party came a month after Tunisia handed power to a previously-banned party of moderate Islamists. Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood is also expected to do well in an election starting Monday.
PJD, which will get its first chance to head a coalition government, has said it will promote Islamic finance but steer clear of imposing a strict moral code on a country that depends on tourism.
The party, whose deceased founder was a physician of King Mohammed's grandfather, is loyal to the monarchy and backs its role as the supreme religious authority in the country.
PJD won 107 seats in the 395-seat parliament, according to results from the interior ministry carried by the official MAP news agency.
Three parties from the secularist Koutla bloc, with which the PJD wants to form a coalition, won a total 117 seats, the results showed.
Koutla includes the Istiqlal Party, of outgoing Prime Minister Abbas Al Fassi, Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP) and Socialism and Progress Party (PPS). The three parties won 60, 39 and 18 seats respectively. Istiqlal headed the incumbent coalition.
Ruler King Mohammed is expected to pick a prime minister from PJD's ranks next week, with its secretary general Abdelilah Benkirane touted for the job.
PJD's rivals, a grouping of eight liberal parties with close ties to the royal palace, lagged behind with about 160 seats in total, according to the final results.
Morocco has not had a revolution of the kind seen elsewhere in the region. But King Mohammed, has pushed through limited reforms to contain what has become regular protests demanding a British or Spanish-style monarchy.
Fathallah Arsalane, a prominent figure in the banned al-Adl Wal Ihsane (Justice and Spirituality) which has been a driving force behind the protests, said PJD deserved to win but he noted that it may not be any different from parties that have led previous governments.
They (PJD) are honest people who love their country. But it will be in a coalition with other parties ... Parties execute the ruler's policies, he told Reuters in an interview.
The moderate Islamists' strong showing came on the back of its promises for greater democracy, less corruption and to tackle acute social inequalities by raising minimum wages and reforming education. Youth unemployment is at 31 percent and nearly a quarter of the 33 million population live in severe poverty.
Mohamed, a building concierge in his mid-thirties in Rabat, gave his vote to PJD, which he referred to as Justice.
I like Justice. They are fearless. Benkirane is blunt, he calls things by their name. He is not like other politicians who speak words I can't fathom.
But they have to work quickly and it will not be made easy for them. The other parties don't like them. I think Justice have one year to show us some satisfactory change ... We want dignity and jobs, said Mohamed, arms-folded.
(Reporting By Souhail Karam; Editing by Andrew Heavens)