Cuba’s historic electoral process November 2017 – April 2018

For the first time since its revolution, Cuba will not have a president named Castro

by Ken Sehested

        You will be excused for not knowing that Cuba is in the midst of a historic electoral process which, when completed, will feature a Cuban president not named Castro. (It’s quite possible you didn’t even know Cuba had elections.)

        The process began on 26 November 2017 when citizens went to polling stations in every district across the country to select leaders to serve on ward [precinct] and municipal governing bodies as “delegates.” On 11 March, candidates for provincial and national legislatures will be chosen. The National Assembly will then chose a new president to succeed Raúl Castro, who retires on 19 April.

        For the first time since the country’s 1959 revolution, Cuba will not have a president named Castro.

Right: Precinct voting in Cuba. Older children (under age 16) serve as poll monitors.

¶ What follows is a bit more background on Cuba’s electoral process.

            • Cuba’s recent election is the first of three stages in choosing their provincial and national assemblies. A field of 27,000 candidates were on the ballot in 12,515 wards, with 11,415 members of Municipal legislators elected. Of those, 35.4% were women and 14.3% were “youth” (up to age 29). —for more see Telesur

        • All citizens older than 16, who not suffering from mental illness or are in prison, are eligible to vote. Neither voters nor candidates are required to be members of the Communist Party. Campaigning is illegal. Voters learn of the candidates in their districts by reading short biographical sketches (with photos) posted on store windows and, of course, in conversation with neighbors.

        • The Miami Herald, one of the few publications in the US covering the election, ran the headline, “Cuba had the lowest election turnout in four decades. Is the government losing its grip?

        • In fact, 85.9% of eligible voters in Cuba cast ballots—7.6 million of the country’s 8.8 million eligible voters. In US presidential elections, average turnout over the last 50 years is less than 55%. In mid-term elections that number goes down to 34.4. In most major cities, fewer than 15% of eligible voters participate. —for more see Drew DeSilver, “US trails most developed countries in voter turnout,” Pew Research Center; PBS News Hour; Kriston Capps, CityLab)

        • The ban on election campaigning is justified as a sanction against “million–dollar election campaigns where resorting to insults, slander and manipulation are the norm.” (“Elections in Cuba,” Wikipedia) That “million-dollar” statement is badly out of date. Cost of the 2016 US election was $6,444,253,265. —“Cost of election,” Center for Responsive Politics

        • Provincial and national assembly members will be selected from those “nominated by the municipal assemblies from lists compiled by national, provincial and municipal candidacy commissions. The final list of candidates for the National Assembly, one for each district, is drawn up by the National Candidacy Commission; however, voters can veto a candidate because if a candidate fails to gain 50% of the vote, a new candidate must be chosen.” —for more see “Elections in Cuba,” Wikipedia

        • Cuba’s “Council of State” is a 31-member body elected by the National Assembly. It exercises legislative power between the biannual meetings of the National Assembly and can also call for special sessions of the Assembly. —Wikipedia, “Council of State (Cuba)

¶ Here’s what I’ve learned about the electoral process from a group of pastors in Cuba:

        • At the precinct (also called “ward”) candidates are nominated and elected by popular vote. Elected representatives at the precinct and municipal levels are called “delegates.” At they provincial and national levels, they are called “deputies.”

        • The Council of State appoints the electoral commission for National Assembly elections, which must be composed of at least 50% of local district (ward) delegates. The electoral commission for the National Assembly selects the provincial commission members, which then selects the municipal commission. Only at the precinct level do voters nominate or vote for candidates.

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