Share story

RABAT, Morocco (AP) — In a highly unusual move, Morocco’s king ousted the designated prime minister in an effort to settle a five-month deadlock over forming a new government.

A surprise palace statement late Wednesday announced that King Mohammed VI had removed Abdelilah Benkirane, the head of the Islamist party PJD that won last year’s parliamentary elections, from his duties.

“The king extolled, on several occasions, the designated prime minister to accelerate the creation of a new government,” the statement said The king is expected to name another member of the Party for Justice and Development to replace Benkirane.

The PJD won the October election, but didn’t get enough seats to govern alone and has struggled to form a coalition with rival parties.

The impasse has threatened to damage Morocco’s reputation in the region for political stability after years of upheaval in the Arab world.

While ultimate power in Morocco rests with the king, he rarely intervenes directly in forming a government. He did so this time, the palace said, “to overcome the current situation of immobility” and “in his constant concern for consolidating democratic choice.”

It was a big blow for Benkirane, who became prime minister after his moderate party won elections in 2011 for the first time in the wake of Arab Spring uprisings. Protests in Morocco prompted constitutional reforms granting more powers to the elected government.

The past PJD-led government was a coalition of parties from left and right, but tensions have since surfaced and Benkirane no longer enjoys the same broad support.