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Elections Highlight Need for Political Change in Cuba

Elections Highlight Need for Political Change in Cuba / Dimas Castellanos
Posted on May 8, 2015

Dimas Castellanos, 24 April 2015 — Elections for delegates to the
Municipal Assemblies of People’s Power were held in Cuba on April 19. In
light of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with the United
States, they highlight the pressing need to expand the reforms to the
political arena.

For the first time close to one million voters, 11.70% of the
electorate, did not go to the polls. If we add to this the 700,000
voters who cast invalid ballots, the number of abstentions climbs to 1.7
million Cubans. That amounts to more than 20% of the electorate.

In 2003 the number of abstentions and invalid ballots totaled 6.09%. It
2008 it was 7.73%. In 2013 it reached 14.22%, almost double the 2003
total. This year it topped 20%. Such sustained growth is a clear
indication of change in Cuban voting patterns that the authorities
cannot afford to ignore.

The causes are quite obvious. A profound crisis brought on by an
unfeasible economic model — exemplified by low salaries, widespread
corruption and a mass exodus from the island — has had an adverse
impact. Cubans are aware that delegates lack the basic power to effect
change. In spite of the risks inherent in a one-party system — one which
holds a monopoly on information, and a lack of fundamental freedoms —
they have opted to boycott the polls. Or they cross out, nullify,
scribble on or turn their ballots in blank. This includes tens of
thousands of voters who cast their ballots at the last moment as a form
of protest. We also know that for everyone who dares take such actions,
there are others who are gradually losing the fear that has paralyzed
them. In response to the argument that it is the people who nominate
candidates, one might add that is also the people who boycott elections
and invalidate ballots.

Rather than clinging to the past or continuing to make changes “slowly
but steadily,” the authorities should take a critical look at these
numbers and acknowledge the need to expand the reforms to political
arena, beginning with a real electoral law that allows citizens to
choose from candidates who offer a range of options. It is a matter of
fulfilling the promise made on January 8, 1959 when the leader of the
revolution announced that there would be elections “in the shortest
period of time possible.” This period dragged on for no less than
seventeen years, when in July 1976 the first post-revolution election
law was enacted. Plagued with shortcomings, it was repealed in 1992 when
Law 72, which governs current elections, was enacted.

This law limits direct elections to delegates for municipal assemblies.
From here candidates for the provincial and national assemblies as well
as the presidents, vice-presidents, secretary and other members of the
Council of State are chosen by the various commissions for candidacies
(as stipulated in article 67), which are made up of members of so-called
mass organizations (article 68), all of whom are members of the only
party allowed under the constitution.

According to the law, delegates elected directly by the people cannot
exceed 50% of the total number of candidates. The other half are
nominated by the commissions for candidacies, which has the power to
choose people not elected by direct vote (articles 77 and 86), a
violation of popular sovereignty.

In his famous book, The Social Contract, Jean Jacques Rousseau argued
that people joining together to protect and defend their property
expresses a general will, making the parties a collective political
body. The exercise of this will — an expression of power — is referred
to as sovereignty and a people which exercises it is sovereign.

If elections are a manifestation of popular sovereignty, then the Cuban
electoral system is a denial of that sovereignty, as demonstrated in the
recently held elections. What is needed is a new law that will respond
to the interests of the Cuban people rather than simply serve as a means
to hold onto power.

During the Tenth Plenary Session of the Central Committee of the Cuban
Communist Party it was announced that a new electoral law will govern
the 2018 general elections. One might infer that it will set term limits
for senior governmental posts and establish a maximum age for those
occupying such posts. Such changes, however, are not enough. The new law
must be enacted through a popular referendum that itself is the result
of consensus, abandoning the practice of simply imposing laws without
taking into consideration the interests of the people.

The 1.7 million Cubans who reject the electoral system have a right to
choose from other options. Some years ago an opposition figure was
nominated in the town of Plaza on two consecutive occasions and the only
votes he got were his own and that of his wife. Nevertheless, in the
last elections a computer technician, Yuniel López de Arroyo Naranjo,
and a lawyer and journalist, Hildebrando Chaviano de Plaza, ran as
opposition candidates in preliminary elections and won. In the
subsequent municipal elections the former obtained 233 votes and the
latter 189.

In other words, voters who abstained or voided their ballots now joined
with those who openly voted for the opposition, despite the smear
campaigns against the candidates.Given that the nation is a community
made up of a diversity of people of equal dignity seeking a common good,
one must recognize multi-party democracy as an expression of that
diversity. It is, therefore, essential that Cubans’ political liberties
be restored so they can begin to play an active necessary role in the
destiny of Cuba.

Previously published in Diario de Cuba

Source: Elections Highlight Need for Political Change in Cuba / Dimas
Castellanos | Translating Cuba –

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