By Arnold August*
HAVANA TIMES, April 26 — There are several wrong assertions in the HT article “No False Promises in Cuba’s Elections”. In Cuba there are general elections, the last ones taking place in 2007-2008. In these elections, deputies to the Parliament (National Assembly of People’s Power) and delegates to the provincial assemblies are elected for a five year mandate. Just before these elections, delegates to the municipal assemblies are elected but only for a mandate of two and a half years. In the context of the 2007-08 elections, in January 2008 elections took place for (amongst others) Deputies to the National Assembly. All citizens 16 years and older had the right to vote.
The nominations for elections to the Parliament are organized by the candidacy commissions at the national, provincial and municipal levels. These commissions are composed of representatives from all the mass organisations (but not the Party nor the Communist Youth), that is unions, students, small farmers, women, neighbourhood committees. These representatives are designated by these mass organizations as a result of analysis and consultations within these organizations.
For the 2008 elections, there were over 45,000 proposals from the mass organizations for candidates to be elected as deputies to the Parliament; these proposals were sent to the candidacy commissions from the mass organizations. These commissions consulted with the people at the places of work, schools and neighbourhoods from where the prospective candidates are proposed. Why is this done? In order to determine if the proposals for candidates are really worthy of the electors’ trust and if these potential candidates have the grass-roots support in order to be appropriate as nominees.
This form of nomination seems to be the closest one can get to the neighbourhood nomination procedure to the elections to the municipal assemblies. In these nomination meetings at the grass-roots level, every elector has the right to directly propose any other elector provided that the person resides in her or his electoral district/riding (circonscripción as they are known in Cuba). The delegates are to be elected from these circonscripciones.
Let us return to the elections for the National Assembly. Even after the list of over 45,000 was reduced in January 2008 to coincide with the number of seats in the parliament, who has the last word as to whom the candidates should be? It is precisely the elected delegates to the municipal assembly who were nominated following neighbourhood nomination meetings and then elections from amongst at least two candidates. Once the list of candidates are finalised, in order to be elected to the National Assembly as deputy, each candidate must receive at least 50% of the votes.
Once the deputies are elected in this way, the Parliament then met on February 24, 2008. One of the first steps on that day was to elect the Council of State from amongst the deputies elected. To repeat: the Council of State is elected from amongst those deputies who had been elected directly by universal suffrage in which normally over 97% of the electors vote.
And furthermore, up the 50% of these elected deputies had been elected as delegates to the municipal assemblies, therefore in an innovative manner typical of Cuba her system integrates the grass roots representatives into to the highest level of the state. No other country in the world has up to 50% of its deputies, by law, coming from the municipal assembly grass roots; Cuba thus has a sort of double representation.
Cuba does not have a presidential system as in the United States, aside from many other major and obvious differences. In order to elect the Council of State and its officers including its president, the parliament temporarily recessed on February 24, 2008 so that a secret vote was taken whereby deputies (including the municipal assembly grass roots delegates) deposit their vote in a ballot box. On February 24 the Council of State including its President Raúl Castro was thus elected by the parliamentarian deputies. And so it is false to say that the Council of State is not elected by the people or the Parliament; just as it is incorrect to claim that the parliament is not elected.
Seeing as that the author of the article seems to be interested in the US electoral system, please note that normally only 50-60% of the possible electorate votes there, and once the votes are divided between the Republicans and Democrats, the president of the US (which IS NOT elected directly elected but rather by electoral colleges – remember Bush vs. Gore, etc,) gets about say 20% of the votes: a very far cry from the minimum 50% required for any Cuban elected citizen. And so Cubans, through the 2007-08 elections of the municipal assembly delegates and the National Assembly deputies do indeed have a say as to who should be the president.
Seeing as the municipal delegates were elected in 2007 for a 2.5 year mandate, the current partial elections are now taking place, as opposed to what the Cubans call general elections, the last of which took place in 2007-08. From the nomination of candidates which was initiated in February 24, 2010 to the current elections, they have nothing at all to do with election of the Council of State or its president as laid out in the Constitution and the corresponding laws.
As to the complaint that people are pressured into voting, my own experience in Cuba covering several elections over the last 12 years has indicated to me that while there is obvious a major effort to inspire the citizens to vote, it is not obligatory and no is pursued or pressured into voting nor a victim of persecution if they do not vote. Look, approximately 3% of the people do not vote; can you imagine the uproar and unrest if 3% of the population was persecuted because they did not vote?
As far as the right to discuss issues such as economic problems, freedom of the press, etc, no one ever claimed that the Cuban elections are the venue for this. However, people in many other countries would be quite jealous regarding the opportunities which increasingly exist in Cuba to regularly discuss in the mass media, in the work place, schools and neighbourhoods all of these issues and others such as the need to further perfect the political and social system.
*Arnold August, Montreal, Writer.