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Islamist Party Taking Most Seats in Morocco Poll

RABAT, Morocco -- An Islamist Party is on track to become the largest party in Morocco's new parliament with a dominant showing after two-thirds of the seats were announced by the Interior Ministry Saturday.

The Justice and Development Party has taken 80 seats, almost twice as many as the next most powerful party, with 282 seats announced out of the 395 up for grabs in the nationwide vote a day earlier.

Barring a massive upset, the PJD -- known by its French initials -- will be the largest party in the new parliament and charged with forming a new government -- making another Islamist victory in a election brought about by the Arab Spring.

Last month, Morocco's Ennahda Party took 40 percent of the seats in Tunisian elections, the country that started a wave of pro-democracy uprisings across the Middle East after its people overthrew their long-serving dictator.

Egypt is set to hold elections of its own on Monday that are also expected to be dominated by Islamist parties, lending increasing weight to the view that religous movements have been some of the biggest benefactors of the Arab Spring.

Like the rest of the region, Morocco was swept by pro-democracy protests decrying widespread corruption, which the king attempted to defuse over the summer by ordering the constitution modified to grant more powers to the Parliament and prime minister and then holding elections a year earlier.

Activists, however, have called the moves insincere and clamored for a boycott.

The Islamists' biggest rivals in Morocco's elections is a coalition of eight liberal, pro-government parties led by Finance Minister Salaheddine Mezouar, which has amassed more than 110 seats, but under the new constitution the party with the most seats gets first crack at forming a new government.

The Islamists must now find coalition partners willing to work with them.

In recent years Morocco's Islamists have cultivated an image as honest outsiders battling corruption and seeking to improve services, rather than focusing on moral issues such as whether women wear the Islamic headscarf.

Morocco, a close U.S. ally and popular European tourist destination suffers from high unemployment and widespread poverty.

With dozens of parties running and a complex system of proportional representation, Morocco's parliaments are typically divided up between many parties each with no more than a few dozen seats, requiring complex coalitions that are then dominated by the king.

The government announced a 45-percent turnout in Friday's contest, slightly more than legislative elections in 2007, but still less than local elections in 2009 and the summer's constitutional referendum.

There are almost 13.5 million registered voters in this North African kingdom of 32 million, though it is estimated that there are 22 million people of voting age.