To Vote or Abstain? For Once Cubans Are on the Same Page

Those who go to the polls on March 26 will do so for three different motives: conviction, inertia, or fear. (Xinhua)

By Reinaldo Escobar (14ymedio) 

HAVANA TIMES – It can be said that, for the first time in more than sixty years, Cubans opposed to the regime have (almost) unanimously agreed that abstention is an appropriate response to the Communist Party’s call for a “united vote” on March 26 in favor of the list of candidates that will make up the tenth Parliamentary Legislature.

I say “almost” because, on an individual level, there are citizens who would like to show up just so they can cancel, or not fill out, their ballots. Some even want to make the defiant gesture of not going into the voting booth, where the right to secretly mark one’s preference with an X is exercised. “I’m going to tell the people at the table that I don’t believe in this process and drop a blank ballot into the box in front of them,” a friend promises.

Those who do go to the polls will do so for three different motives: conviction, inertia or fear. Of the five or four (or perhaps only three) million who go to their polling stations, most will do so out of fear, or because of that defense mechanism masked as inertia. “I don’t want to get into trouble,” say the fearful. “Why make a fuss if they’re going to do whatever they want anyway?” ask those who vote out of inertia.

Who are the true believers? (I say this in all seriousness.) They are the ones who feel the candidates who appear on the ballot actually represent them. True, they do not know what these people think because candidates are prohibited by law from coming up with proposals or campaigning on platforms that might make an electorate swoon. But for reasons I cannot fathom, they deduce from head shots and biographical data that these men and women will raise their hands in Parliament to vote in favor of what matters to their constituents.

There are others, less naive but more disciplined, who are also convinced. They are the ones who, if the party tells them they must vote for the entire ticket, they will do so, without their blind obedience weighing on their consciences.

Among the dissenters’ motivations for abstaining, one has to consider the lack of alternatives.

On previous occasions, especially for elections on a municipal level, some were incentivized to get out and vote for a candidate who was, or seemed to be, at odds with the government. That can be ruled out in this case because the list of candidates submitted by the Commission of Candidacies for the National Assembly is airtight. Not a single suspect among them.

In the last two elections, the referendum on the constitution and on the Family Code, there were also different options.

In the case of the former, there was the idea that voting a resounding NO would signal one’s refusal to accept the dominance of the Communist Party and the irrevocability of the system. Others, however, believed that voting — even if it was in the negative — gave legitimacy to a bogus referendum. No consensus was reached and the division between the NO supporters and the abstainers weakened their message.

In the referendum on the Family Code, official propaganda had people believe the only option was to vote for it. And since it addressed the specific interests of the LGBTI community, as well as those who sought a legal pathway for surrogate pregnancies, neither a NO vote nor an abstention could be read as a clear expression of disagreement with the government.

This time is different.

Neither supporters of strong-man rule, nor those with generational prejudices, nor even those with a propensity for notoriety and who always have something different to say; neither Trumpists nor Obama-ists;  neither radicals nor moderates have come forward to argue for voting NO, for abstaining, for staying home, or for whatever else you want to call it.

When Fulgencio Batista organized sham elections in 1958, Cuba had 2,310,262 citizens with the right to vote. Only 46% of them went to the polls. None of those elected to public office managed to take up their positions because there was, what appeared to be at the time, a popular revolution.

The triumphant regime never forgave the roughly million-and-a-half citizens who went to the polls that year out of conviction, fear or inertia. They were not allowed to join the sole political party or hold important public office. In the tell-all forms that had to be filled out for almost anything, there was always the question about whether or not one had participated in the 1958 elections.

I hope that, in a future democratic Cuba, this is never allowed to happen again.

Translated by Translating Cuba

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