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Mild turnout for Morocco vote amid boycott

RABAT, Morocco -- Morocco's Arab Spring-inspired parliamentary elections saw a 45 percent turnout rate Friday in the face of a boycott called by democracy activists who say the ruling monarchy isn't committed to real change.

A moderate Islamist party and a pro-palace coalition led by the finance minister are competing for the top spot, but the key test for authorities' legitimacy was how many voters cast ballots.

While the turnout, announced by the Interior Ministry, is an improvement over 2007's 37 percent, it is still less than the rates predicted by officials who maintained the population has been galvanized by the king's reform efforts.

Since the last election, however, the number of registered voters has shrunk from 15 million to 13.5 million -- despite the increase in population -- which also may have boosted the participation rate.

Interior Minister Taieb Cherqaoui said the vote took place in an atmosphere of "calm and a spirit of responsibility," though opposition members alleged there were irregularities.

In response to pro-democracy protests, the king amended the constitution over the summer giving the prime minister new powers, including the ability to dissolve parliament and make certain appointments. But the ultimate authority remains with the monarch.

As the polls closed Friday night and the counting of ballots began, Morocco's U.S. and other Western allies were closely watching for the results to see how the North African kingdom is navigating its own Arab Spring.-- AP

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