For the first time since Islamist-led government took office, Morocco will elect a parliament on Friday.
Islamists took office five years ago following Arab Spring uprisings that toppled leaders across North Africa.
The Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) came to power in 2011 after swelling protests prompted concessions from King Mohammed VI, the scion of a monarchy that has ruled the North African country for 350 years.
According to Africa Review, a new constitution reduced some, though not all, of the king’s near-absolute powers as autocratic regimes fell in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane’s PJD says a second term would allow it to continue its limited economic and social reforms.
Heading a coalition that includes communists, liberals and conservatives, it retains considerable support among the urban middle classes that have largely abandoned the left in favour of Islamist parties.
But it has been weakened by rising unemployment and what critics say is a failure to deal with corruption.
The party has faced a string of scandals within its ranks including a major drugs bust, a dodgy land-grab deal and the suspension of two vice presidents found in a “sexual position” on a beach.
It also faces a resurgent liberal opposition Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM), formed in 2008 by a close adviser to the king.
The PAM has poured enormous resources into a campaign criticising the government’s record as “catastrophic” and pledging to roll back the “Islamisation” of society.
It pitches itself as the defender of women’s rights and liberal social mores, and aims to bring more women into parliament, where they hold just 67 out of 395 seats.
The PJD accuses its rival of being the party of the palace, part of a shadowy “parallel state” controlling political life.
If it holds on to power, the PJD will remain an essential part of Moroccan politics, “despite the feelings it rouses at the palace and among the globalised bourgeoisie,” said Pierre Vermeren, a historian of the Maghreb region.
A victorious PJD would try to take the opportunity to gain more space from the monarchy for joint decision-making, he said.