Cuba’s General “Elections” in the Context of Presidential Transition


Osmel Ramirez Alvarez

Cuba’s National Assembly will presumably choose its leader and the president of the country on April 19th.

HAVANA TIMES — On April 19th, the new National Assembly of People’s Power will hold its first plenary session and will finally approve the National Nomination Committee’s proposal for its own president and the new president of the State Council too.

On March 11th, elections were held in Cuba to elect 605 National Lawmakers and 1265 Provincial Representatives. Eight days later, the National Electoral Committee announced the final results: 85.5% of the electorate participated and 94.42% of the votes cast were valid.

These days, the elections aren’t a common subject of conversation on Cuba’s streets and there isn’t an atmosphere of elections. On March 11th, in the middle of the polls, everything was normal. After these figures were published, people have reacted but not in any significant way.

“What a blow! They have always given us high numbers, 90-something per cent, they must be afraid,” a young self-employed worker told me while he was doing his job.

“People are tired of voting for the fun of it, while things just carry on as they are or worse still. If people could do what they wanted, nobody would have gone to vote, but they’ve got us by our noses. I cast a blank vote, I don’t know any of them. I went because I have a self employed license and if they come onto me, they’ll screw me over. If you could take off your mask, they wouldn’t get a single vote, they don’t fix anything anyway,” he concluded.

This has been the prevailing opinion, but there is always someone who thinks differently:

“The majority of the population going out to vote and backing our political system is the important thing,” an old communist remarked, trying to hide his frustration. “85% is an extremely high figure if you take a look at electoral participation in other countries which claim to be more democratic than our own. It’s hard to keep levels as high as they were because many people are being twisted by enemy propaganda and don’t know how dangerous it is to play Imperialism’s game. However, nobody is going to destroy the Revolution while we are still a majority.”

Hearing him speak reminded me of a much-discussed colleague here at Havana Times. There aren’t many of them but there are still people who think this way and are hesitant to change. They aren’t the majority but they feel protected because Cuba’s power: a tyrannical and intimidating power, lies in their name. The reality is that 85% of participation in elections in any other democratic country in the world is an astronomical figure, but in Cuba’s controlled political landscape, it’s unprecedented in a different way and says something else.

In 1993, participation was 99.57% in the first parliamentary election of this new post-USSR era and Special Period. However, in following polls up until 2013, there has been a subtle but gradual decline in participation, although it has always been above 90%.

That’s why it’s striking that this year, when there will be an unprecedented change in the country’s presidency, there has been such a sharp drop of more than 5.5% in participation. However, the quality of votes, “valid” votes, has remained stable, around 95% more or less.

Year % participation % Quality of vote
1993 99.57 95.10
1998 98.35 94.98
2003 97.64 96.14
2008 96.89 95.24
2013 90.88 94.17
2018 85.50 94.42

Table: Percentages of participation and quality of votes in parliamentary elections over the past 25 years

Various factors could have influenced this result. Including the population’s disappointment with the government’s development plan, which has only sunk us into a more intense and renewed crisis in over a decade of Raul Castro in power; the opposition’s call to not take part after opposition candidates being shamefully prevented from taking part; and the population’s growing political awareness due to economic and social changes in recent times, slowly moving away from social control mechanisms which obliged people to vote unwillingly.

On the other hand, the government promoted mass participation under the slogan “For Cuba” which was communicated via the media and propaganda, which they have monopoly control over. Plus, voting was associated with “patriotism” like it always has been, to “yes for the Revolution and socialism” and was also made out to be a kind of “tribute to Fidel” this time.

Not taking part meant publicly displaying your disdain for these purposes and translates as a negative stigma in political behavior which State Security and mass organizations (such as the CDRs) take into account. Even so, 1.3 million Cubans abstained from voting and this, as well as null votes (425,000), blank or invalid, which are other negative ways of expression in the election process, over 1.7 million voters had nothing to do with electing this new Parliament.

Not to mention the fact that the Cuban government doesn’t allow votes from abroad, where we would have over a million potential voters who would annul their vote if they could, as a sign of protest against a system that forced them into exile or economic migration. If you add all of these up, they would represent 40% of all the Cubans who are fit to vote.

In the face of a new Parliament taking their seats and presumably a new President of Cuba too, there is little hope for any real change that will try and resolve the country’s financial, political and social standstill which has been created by the Cuban government itself over nearly six decades of failures. All of the country’s main political and military figures are intentionally placed in this powerful State body, as they were “coincidentally” nominated and “elected” for the main positions.

Osmel Ramirez

I'm from Mayari, a little village in Holguín. I was born on the same day that the Vietnam War ended on April 30, 1975. A good omen, since I identify myself as a pacifist. I am a biologist but I am passionate about politics, history and political philosophy. Writing about these topics, I got to journalism, precisely here on Havana Times. I consider myself a democratic socialist and my main motivation is to try to be useful to the positive change that Cuba needs.

One thought on “Cuba’s General “Elections” in the Context of Presidential Transition

  • April 5, 2018 at 4:56 pm

    Given the fact that the CDR representatives get a list of who has not voted, I am surprised to learn that voter turnout was so low at 85.5%. During one of mu visirs to Cuba, even before the polls closed on election day, the CDR representative who spied on the owner of my casa particular and everyone else on the block, stopped by our house to “remind” the owner that she had not voted yet. So much for the secret ballot.

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