Will Cuba’s Next Elections be Democratic?

By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez

Illustration: escambray.cu

HAVANA TIMES — The general elections for this year have already been announced by the Cuban State Council. It’s a process which takes place every five years. However, every 2.5 years, half-way through this term, another partial election take place, on a municipal level only.

On this occasion, the 612 member legislature will be selected again (the National Assembly of the People’s Power) and its President, Provincial Parliaments and their presidents, as well as the State Council and its President, who is also the President of the Council of Ministers. That’s why the Cuban President is the Head of State and the Head of Government.

And I say “selected” instead of “elected”, because in the Cuban political system, the Cuban people can only choose their District representative. Anyone higher up than this official, up to the President of the Cuba, is either “approved” by a direct vote or it’s these representatives who approve them themselves.

It just so happens that the local delegates are the Cuban leaders with the least decision-making power and with the least resources in their hands, not to say none. It’s worth highlighting the fact that the further removed a Cuban leader is from the direct popular vote, the more power they have and the more resources they handle.

The delegate, who doesn’t even earn an income for their activity as such, is chosen among several candidates and is nominated by his/her neighbors. Something really beautiful, if it were like this at every level. But, the President of the People’s Council (the quivalent to a Mayor), who has a little more power, is chosen by these delegates. Almost always with semi-imposed proposals from above, which are very difficult to reject by voting because it’s done by raising your hand.

The President of the Municipal Assembly (the equivalent of a Mayor), can’t be elected directly by the Cuban people. The delegates do this among themselves, but nominations aren’t open to all. No delegate can publicly aspire to be the mayor, nor can they publicly propose any of their colleagues.

A Nominations Committee, made up by organizations which depend on the Communist Party, interviews candidates one by one and picks two candidates, which are then put forward for the vote. The delegates choose between these two and whoever gets the most votes is the President of the Assembly and the runner-up is his Vice-President. The Party almost always has its preference and pressures them somehow so that their preferred candidate among the two comes out winning.

This happens at every level. The Communist Party doesn’t directly choose or nominate anyone, but they do this via their dependent organizations through the Nominations Committee. Neither the people, nor their representatives can choose or nominate a candidate, they can only approve them. It really is a macabre invention of misappropriation of sovereignty, where the Party robs the people of their right.

Candidates for lawmakers at provincial and national Assemblies are presented to us on a single slate.  We don’t choose between several candidates, there are the same number of nominations for the same number of seats. For example, in 2013, there were 612 nominees to hold 612 seats in the National Assembly. Clearly there isn’t an election, this is just an approval process.

So much so, that the official campaign is: Vote for everyone! Although it’s essentially unnecessarily because in practice it’s hard for anyone to be left out, as there isn’t a campaign, or competition, nor do you win or lose anything with it being one or the other who takes the position.

Approximately half of lawmakers need to be District Party delegates, and the other half are chosen by the Nominations Committee from other sources. Of course, it isn’t just any Party representative that is nominated. They are all Communist Party members, presidents of municipal or provincial Assemblies, members of state-run companies or mass organizations, and so on.

The non-delegate candidates can be prominent figures in non-political related fields, but committed with the system, and are nearly always PCC members. It’s in this group where they put ministers and other political figures of government interest. Everything is settled so that in the end, those who ensure the system endures are there. The Party doesn’t do anything directly but it is behind anything and everything unfolds as it has planned.

Once the “new” National Assembly is elected, they need to choose their President and the State Council and its President, from among its members (who aren’t there by chance). Elections are public so as to prevent unforeseen glitches. The only candidate is presented by the abovementioned Nominations Committee, consulting the outgoing State Council in advance. And behind the scenes, (a lot of the time in the Assembly itself like what happened in 2013), with the Political Bureau from the PCC Central Committee.

Just imagine if a democratic election is possible in such a system! Popular sovereignty has gone to the dumps. It’s the tyrannical system of radical socialism, based on the belief, real or hypocritical, of a visionary leader’s superiority over popular good sense and native sovereignty.

It’s within this political system and with these kinds of “elections” that the pacific opposition on the island are trying to take part in the Cuban political game for the first time. The old tactic of calling for people to desist from participating has been put aside and now their goal is to try and get government leaders who are committed with the democratic process.

It’s a praiseworthy initiative, as all of us Cubans have the right to hold public office, even under this Constitution, whose basic principles violate the most basic constitutional rights of the Cuban people.

Maybe it’s the first step towards building a better Cuba. And if we have “to change everything that needs to be changed”, surely this anti-democratic system is the first thing that needs to be changed. There’s no doubt about it.

5 thoughts on “Will Cuba’s Next Elections be Democratic?

  • My comment refers to how Fidel viewed democracy. However, you make a good point on a totally separate topic.

  • In case your memory fails you, Ortega lost that 1990 election because the US had waged 10 years of devastating Contra war and told the Nicaraguan people that if they had had enough of the death and destruction, if they “cried ‘Uncle’ ” and voted in the opposition, the war would end. That’s how “democracy” and capitalism win– through war. It continues still in the Middle East.
    And Nicaragua is a shining example of democratic capitalism today.

  • You reminded me of another Fidel quote. He chastised President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua for holding a legal democratic election in 1990. Fidel said “why hold an election you could possibly lose?”. Obviously the only elections that Fidel wanted were the kind where the fix was in. By the way, Ortega did lose that election.

  • Osmel poses a simple question:
    “Will Cuba’s next elections be democratic?”
    Fidel Castro said fifty eight long years ago:
    “Revolution now, elections later.”
    Cuba has been awaiting proper elections ever since and the obvious simple answer to Osmel’s simple question is NO!
    Communism cannot and does not tolerate open free elections, for as thirteen countries in Eastern Europe proved, given such elections, communism is doomed to the garbage can of 19th century history.
    Communism is opposed to individual freedom, thought and action, information has to be stifled and each generation indoctrinated in childhood as required by the Castro Cuban constitution.

    “The inherent vice os socialism is the equal sharing of misery.”

  • Excellent analysis. Osmel completely debunks the claim that Cuba is a democratic state. Anyone who knows Cubans and the Cuban culture should take notice that the National Assembly has voted unanimously on 99.9% of the votes taken. The handful of no votes were cast by Mariela Castro. When do 5 Cubans in a room agree completely on anything, let alone 612?

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