Cuba’s Elections and the Filter

Dmitri Prieto

Cuba elects local delegates on April 25th. Photo by Bill Hackwell

Next Sunday, Cuba will hold local or elections.  This means delegates will be elected by residents to Municipal Assemblies of Popular Power [similar to city councils].  These delegates will also go on to participate in bodies that administer the areas that the municipalities are divided into, which are known as Popular Councils.

Once constituted, each Municipal Assembly and Popular Council will designate its own president and officers.

These are partial elections because representatives are only selected at the Municipal Assembly and Popular Council levels (made up, as mentioned, basically by the same people).

There are also general elections in which the members of Provincial Assemblies and the National Assembly (parliament) are elected, in addition to local delegates.  However these broader elections occur every five years.  This is the how the Cuban electoral-political cycle operates.

The municipal elections in Cuba are well known on the island for the fact that citizens themselves nominate the candidates, whose names will appear on the electoral ballots.  Later the voters go to the polls and each one selects the “best and most capable” candidate according to their “virtue and merit.”

These ballots can have from two to eight names on them, but it’s necessary to choose only one.  This might seem trivial, but it’s pointed out because it’s different from the general elections for the Provincial and National Assemblies.  In these higher-level contests, a single list appears on the ballots and the voter can vote for all of the candidates, only for some, or none at all.

This single list —for an equal number of positions— is prepared by several Candidacy Commissions in which representatives of labor and other “mass organizations” participate (not including the Communist Party or the Young Communist League), and later the Municipal Assemblies approve them in each territory.

Thus the difference is that in the municipal elections, citizens are proposed by their fellow citizens, though the electors cannot vote for all of them; while in the provincial and national elections, candidates are selected by organizations and there is a single list.

Experience demonstrates, however, that inclusion on this single list constitutes a sufficient guarantee that those on it will be elected, since most constituents vote for all of those candidates.  This is why many academics and researchers say Cuba’s municipal elections involve greater “direct democracy,” while the other ones are less so.

I wanted to take this time to highlight some particulars concerning municipal elections.  As we know, the final vote is secret: there are sealed ballot boxes and private voting booths.  There can be from two to eight candidates, and a run-off election is held if none of them obtains the absolute majority.  In this way the process conforms to the well-known democratic model, though with the particularity being that candidates are nominated in citizens’ assemblies that are organized in each neighborhood (one for each “nomination area”).

In addition, political parties do not make the nominations (officially there’s only one party, which —officially— doesn’t participate in the nomination process, though of course there are Party members who participate, and nothing prevents them from reaching a consensus on their candidates, although in the end the citizens decide while gathered in assemblies…).

What the Cuban Electoral Law (approved in 1992) mandated was that there must be at least two candidates per district. This is why if only one candidate is nominated, another nomination assembly will be held to propose an additional one(s). Therefore from two to eight candidates will emerge from those areas and go on the ballot. There will never be only one, as occurred in the former Soviet Union for example.

Now then: how is someone is nominated?  The voters, under the direction of the Electoral Commission, meet in the specified place of the neighborhood where people can propose candidates.  What happens later?

What occurs later is that if there is only one candidate identified and everyone is in agreement (through a show of hands) then he/she is considered approved as a candidate (with the exception being that if this is the last scheduled nomination assembly in the voting district and no other candidate has been identified, then another assembly will be held to propose another candidate; there must be at least two candidates).

So what happens if there are several candidates?  In this instance the individuals selected as candidates will of course be those who are supported by the most people… through a show of hands in an open vote.

What this means is that prior to the secret balloting that will take place this Sunday April 25, there’s been a filter: only those candidates will go on the ballot who received a majority (relative) expressed by a show of hands in an open vote.

Perhaps some voters will feel uncomfortable openly showing their support for this or that candidate, and they will consequently opt to support another one, or they’ll simply abstain.

My question is whether that filter is necessary?  Do people think that it’s better to eliminate it?  How can we improve our electoral system?

Dimitri Prieto-Samsonov

Dmitri Prieto-Samsonov: I define myself as being either Cuban-Russian or Russian-Cuban, indiscriminately. I was born in Moscow in 1972 of a Russian mother and a Cuban father. I lived in the USSR until I was 13, although I was already familiar with Cuba-- where we would take our vacation almost every year. I currently live on the fifth floor of an apartment building in Santa Cruz del Norte, near the sea. I’ve studied biochemistry and law in Havana and anthropology in London. I’ve written about molecular biology, philosophy and anarchism, although I enjoy reading more than writing. I am currently teaching in the Agrarian University of Havana. I believe in God and in the possibility of a free society. Together with other people, that’s what we’re into: breaking down walls and routines.


8 thoughts on “Cuba’s Elections and the Filter

  • May 16, 2010 at 10:10 pm
    Permalink

    Mark G, who’s officially the Head of State of Canada? Isn’t Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II?

    I find it amusing when anglo-saxon peasants try to teach democracy to us, latin-americans citizens.

  • April 22, 2010 at 2:13 pm
    Permalink

    One of the things which Cuban elections have that could be emulated here in the United States is automatic voter registration. This is from yesterday’s edition of Granma:

    VOTERS AUTOMATICALLY REGISTERED
    In Cuba, all the citizens in full conditions to vote are automatically registered in the Register of Electors—which is permanently exposed to the public—which has the data of all the electors: name, last names, ID number and address.

    READ MORE ABOUT IT HERE:
    http://www.granma.cubaweb.cu/english/news/art0046.html

  • April 22, 2010 at 2:06 am
    Permalink

    Grok, your claims about Canadian municipal elections being highly manipulated is simply not true. Any one can collect 25 signatures to get your name on the ballot or pass the hat amongst your friends to collect $100 to pay the deposit. This is not a barrier to getting your name on the ballot.

    Everyone in the municipality in which I live runs as an independent. And the person who gets elected is the person who gets the most votes through an open and transparent secret ballot process.

    And at the federal and provincial levels where most people choose to run as candidates of various political parties, these parties are constantly on the look out for credible people in the community to secure their party’s nomination in an open and transparent secret ballot process.

  • April 21, 2010 at 7:14 pm
    Permalink

    AFAIC, where cubans should concentrate on improving their democracy is where local direct control & immediate feedback — i.e. being able 2 effect policy & representation on an even daily basis if necessary — is lacking. These local councils may B “representative”, but they do not likely interact with most people daily or weekly, directly. Neighborhood councils with the power 2 get neighborhood jobs done, with immediate input by those who elected them directly, is the beginning of true proletarian, socialist, participatory democracy. Electing delegates to higher & higher bodies with larger & larger responsibilities presents other issues which must B addressed; but w/o the direct, local control of the concrete basis of communal life at the street level, U R already batting .500.

    & obviously, the job — & the power — of e.g. the Committees 4 the Defence of the Revolution must be taken over by such directly-elected neighborhood councils.

    All Power To The Councils.

  • April 21, 2010 at 6:59 pm
    Permalink

    While what the previous commentator said about the mechanics of “democracy” in Canada may B literally quite true, in fact this system thruout the bourgeois West is highly manipulated by the very forces who pretend such a ‘detached disinterest’ in the goings-on at the local level: which is the only occasion where the mass of the people actually engage in any meaningful way with what they are told is ‘the very best of all possible political systems’. In fact, people R only content with this highly-manipulative process if they have bread on the table & a HDD TV in the parlor — which is why the imperialists rampage across the planet stealing every resource that isn’t nailed down. & then goes 4 those 2: it needs these resources 2 bribe the western working-class into compliance; & present history is about the developing failure 2 ‘deliver the goods’. & thus their need 4 a more open, ‘de facto’ police state.

    So don’t any1 think Cuba’s system is somehow deficient in this…

  • April 21, 2010 at 4:57 pm
    Permalink

    Nomination isn’t the same as election. It simply means getting on the ballot.

    Then once on the ballot, it’s the voters who decide in a secret ballot process.
    No one knows who votes for any specific candidate

    Why should anyone NOT want their neighbors to know that they want to be
    a CANDIDATE? Why should anyone be able to get on the ballot who isn’t
    even known to their neighbors? How else should they be nominated to get
    on the ballot.

    Here in the United States, some people can simply pay money to get on
    the ballot. That means only those with the money can avoid the normal
    practice of obtaining petition signatures from registered voters to get on
    the ballot.

  • April 21, 2010 at 3:22 am
    Permalink

    Getting rid of the hand vote – and relying only on secret ballot votes – would be a good start. The way municipal elections in Canada works is that any citizen has the right to be nominated to get their names on the ballot. Nomination involves nothing more than filling in a form signed by 25 eligible voters and paying a small deposit and presto your name is on the ballot. Except for a handful of big cities, federal and provincial political parties don’t involve themselves in municipal elections so candidates run as independents.

  • April 21, 2010 at 1:36 am
    Permalink

    Thank you for a very interesting article. The electoral process is so very different from what we have in a parliamentary democracy with candidates being nominated by parties and people voting along party lines. I would be interested in hearing more about the electoral system in Cuba. The U.S. has always branded Cuba as “undemocratic” and yet you have a system that in principle could be the very essence of true democracy. I say in principle because I see how representatives are controlled by party discipline in my country and wonder if the same party discipline exists in Cuba. The difference being that in a one-party system there isn’t the check of a “loyal opposition” to keep everyone honest. You get the situation where it doesn’t matter who you vote for because every candidate must tow the party line which comes from above and not from the grassroots level. i would be interested to know how much power the assemblies actually have to put forward the ideas of the people.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *