Moroccans voted on Friday on whether to adopt a new constitution that the king has championed as an answer to demands for greater freedoms — but that protesters say will still leave the monarch firmly in control.

The referendum on the constitution is near certain to result in a resounding “yes” vote, like all past referendums in this North African country and generally throughout the Arab world.

It’s buoyed by a huge media and government campaign, and is seen by some as a way to tentatively open up Moroccan politics while heading off the kind of tumultuous regime change seen elsewhere in the region.

Moroccans started heading to the country’s nearly 40,000 polling stations at 8 a.m. local time. Preliminary results are expected after polls close on Friday night.

A popular tourist destination, this generally stable, Muslim kingdom is a staunch U.S. ally in a strategic swath of northern Africa that has suffered terrorist attacks — and in recent months, popular uprisings against autocratic regimes.

Morocco, like the rest of the Middle East, was swept by pro-democracy demonstrations at the beginning of the year, protesting a lack of freedoms, weak economy and political corruption.

King Mohamed VI, however, seems to have managed the popular disaffection by presenting a new constitution that guarantees the rights of women and minorities, and increases the powers of the parliament and judiciary, ostensibly at the expense of his own.

Protests have continued nevertheless, and the February 20 pro-democracy movement has called for a boycott. It insists that the new constitution leaves the king firmly in power and will be little different from its predecessor.

Their voices have been drowned out, as nearly every political party, newspaper and television station has for the past several weeks pressed for Moroccans to vote in favour of the constitution.

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